In more than three decades as a pastor, Rev. Richard Hill touched people far beyond the walls of his own church.
The Jeffersonville, Ind., native, who spent 31 years leading one of Danville’s landmark religious institutions — First Baptist Church, Second and Walnut — died Thursday at age 79.
“He was a pastor in the truest since of the word, who was so concerned about everyone’s spiritual growth,” said granddaughter Janna Hill. “He not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk. He wasn’t any different when he walked away from the pulpit than he was in public.”
Hill came to Danville in 1974 after spending 12 years at Mill Street Baptist Church in London.¿First Baptist’s membership grew from about 200 to more than 1,000 during his tenure, but it was the baptisms, conversions and chances to be part of people’s lives he relished as much as full pews.
In a news story about Hill’s retirement from the pulpit in 2005, he spoke to a reporter about developing a love for the church where he would spend most of his life.
“Every time we passed by First Baptist, my wife, Mary, and I would comment on how beautiful it was and how lucky the pastor was to have this church,” said Hill. “It would a be a dream to be the pastor here, I thought then. I never dreamed I would or could be.”
Those who knew him said he took education seriously and after his graduation from Jeffersonville High School in Indiana. He attended an Indiana University extension program in Jeffersonville, followed by a two-year stint in the U.S. Army. He earned bachelor’s degrees from Simmons Bible College in Louisville and Cumberland College, along with a master’s degree from Union College.
Hill eventually followed the path of his grandfathers and was ordained a minister in the National Baptist Convention of America Inc., a predominately African-American denomination. He was a past president of the Danville-Boyle County Ministerial Association and the Kentucky Baptist Unified Christian Leadership Conference.
“Rev. Hill often told of how he came from humble beginnings, but he was so concerned with getting educated in order to do God’s work that he would ride his bicycle from Jeffersonville across the bridge to Simmons Bible College in Louisville,” said Minnie Frye, who has been a member of First Baptist for 56 years, most of them with Hill as pastor. “He was well known, not only in this community, but across the state and country for being an educated man of God. People said he was a ‘Christian gentleman’ and that was really true. Other pastors respected him a great deal.”
Hill’s involvement in the community was widely felt, including his role in helping revitalize the local NAACP¿chapter. Among his many service activities, he spent time on the boards of the local Red Cross and the Danville Housing Authority, which allowed him to focus on fair housing for all Danville residents, a personal passion.
“The highlight of this ministry, in my opinion, is the great number of people that we have helped,” Hill said in the 2005 article. “Scores and scores and scores of people, both black and white. We have provided food and temporary shelter and paid the bills for local people in financial crisis and also paid for vouchers so the transients coming through this community could have a meal at a local restaurant and stay at a local motel.”
Family and friends said Hill always had a keen interest in helping people who had problems or had made mistakes in their lives. Prior to devoting himself full time to ministry, he worked as a field services coordinator with Cumberland River Comprehensive Care in¿Corbin, dealing with those addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Another of Hill’s granddaughters — and Janna’s twin sister — Lanna Hill, said his compassion wasn’t confined to Danville. During a phone call to her grandparents following the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, she said she could hear Hill weeping in the background as he watched news reports about the hardship people were experiencing.
“He thought about others no matter what their race, gender, ethnicity or age,” said Lanna Hill. “His love just transcended all of those boundaries.”
Sisters Priscilla and Mavis McCowan, who came of age in Hill’s church and have been lifelong members, recalled Hill serving as a mentor and an example through his knowledge of and strict adherence to scripture. They said he was just as likely to reach out to someone in a jail cell as he was a shutin.
Priscilla McCowan, though, said it was a trip Hill made to visit their ailing father that left a lasting impression about how much he cared for others.
Several years ago, when McCowan’s father was scheduled to be admitted to a Lexington hospital for surgery at 6 a.m. on a January morning following a massive ice storm, Hill beat the family to the hospital.
As much as he cared for others, Hill’s own family said he delighted in being with his loved ones.
Janna Hill, a Danville native who now lives in Atlanta, will remember a doting grandparent who loved spending time with his family, which included his wife Mary, children Dana Yeast and Richard Jr. and David Hill, 13 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Hill also was a needed male influence in the lives of his granddaughters. Janna Hill said he eagerly filled the role and helped her avoid the pitfalls many young women face when a father isn’t actively involved.
“I was so lucky to have him as a father figure,” Hill said. “I never felt like I missed out on anything because of his place in my life.”
For complete obituary information see page 2 of today’s The Advocate-Messenger.