He was a career seminary professor, recalled as being more focused on his students and their needs than on publishing his own research. And for a second act in life, he had an equally long vocation as a volunteer, discussion-group leader and board member at Vintage Senior Community Center.
The Rev. Sidney Hills, who followed several of his ancestors’ paths into the Presbyterian ministry, will be honored at 11 a.m. Saturday at a memorial at East Liberty Presbyterian Church. He died July 17, just two weeks after his 97th birthday, in Portland, Ore., where he had moved from Pittsburgh in 2010 to be closer to family as his health began to decline.
Born in Oak Park, Ill., the fourth of five sons of lawyer Edward R. Hills and his wife, Mary Moore Hills, he graduated from Northwestern University in 1941 and from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1948. He was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1944, and he studied the Old Testament at Johns Hopkins University and received a doctorate.
He became professor of Hebrew and Old Testament theology at Western Theological Seminary on the North Side in 1954 and continued in that role after that school merged with another to form Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in East Liberty in 1959. He retired in 1976.
“He was primarily a teacher, very attentive to his students and their needs,” said the Rev. Jared J. Jackson, a professor emeritus of Old Testament who came to the seminary in 1965. “Some of our colleagues were more into scholarship in their fields, and publication. So Sid was not internationally famous, but beloved by those he taught. He deserves to be remembered for his very great influence on decades of seminarians.”
The Rev. Hills and his wife, Alice, whom he met while studying at McCormick, lived in Scott and later in Highland Park.
In 1975, as he neared retirement, he began 35 years of involvement with Vintage, a block away from the seminary in East Liberty. He was its longest-serving volunteer.
“Monday to Friday, he was a real regular,” said Thomas Sturgill, director of the center. “He really found his meaning, his friends. Vintage was a place to volunteer, but it was also a place of community for him.”
It was at Vintage that he met his second wife, Emma Zeile, to whom he was married from 1986 until her death in 1999.
The Rev. Hills sang in Vintage’s music groups, showed movies, served on its boards and led numerous discussion groups on topics ranging from opera to African-American history to humanity’s search for purpose.
“He was very warm and genuine and very interested in people,” Mr. Sturgill said. “He was very thoughtful and considerate and passionate about aging well, diversity and the meaning of life.”
Where did the Rev. Hills find that meaning for his own life? “I think in serving others and serving his God,” Mr. Sturgill said.
Even with declining eyesight, he enjoyed reading everything from religion to “Harry Potter.” He lived independently in Portland and participated in classes and other activities at First Presbyterian Church there.
The Rev. Hills is survived by his son, David Grier Hills of Portland, and daughter Betsy Hills Bush of Scarsdale, N.Y.; four grandchildren; and several nephews and nieces. His ashes will be laid to rest in the columbarium of East Liberty Presbyterian Church, where his ancestor the Rev. William McIlvaine was the first pastor.
Peter Smith: petersmith@post- gazette.com or 412-263-1416