Richard Lewis Hill III Revolutionary
June 30, 1943 – October 7, 2012
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our dear comrade, Rich Hill, October 7, 2012, after a seven-week battle with pancreatic cancer.
Rich was a longtime comrade and friend to Socialist Viewpoint. He took it upon himself to distribute a bundle of 100 copies of the magazine to newsstands and bookstores in the Baltimore/Washington, DC area since we began publication in May of 2001.
But he was much more than that. He devoted his life to his family and friends and to the struggle for social justice and socialism.
As you will read, our journey with him began in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the 1960s and lasted until his untimely death. He was one of those revolutionary fighters who lived his beliefs; who incorporated them into his life. The fight for human freedom and justice was in the very marrow of his bones. He is impossible to replace.
The following are the Baltimore Sun obituary based upon information provided by Rich’s wife and companion of 33 years, Deborah Bedwell, as well as remembrances from his son, Vincent Ray Hill, and longtime friends and comrades, Cindy Burke, Gus Horrowitz, Lynn Henderson, and Carl Finamore. Rich, Presente!
Richard Lewis Hill III
1960s activism stayed with him throughout life
Richard Lewis Hill III, a longtime social and labor activist and volunteer at Baltimore Clayworks, died of pancreatic cancer at his Towson home on October 7, 2012. He was 69.
Mr. Hill was born in Manhattan, Kansas, the son of a lawyer and a homemaker. He studied drama at Kansas State University in Manhattan just as students on college campuses nationwide began protesting over civil rights and the Vietnam War. He became an activist, too, and left school before graduating, settling during the mid-1960s in Chicago, where he worked for the Socialist Workers Party.
A few years later, he married, and the couple in 1969 had a son, Vincent Ray, named after a Minnesota union organizer. At the request of the Socialist Workers Party, the family moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1970 to help in anti-Vietnam War protests, said Vincent Hill of Decatur, Georgia. The couple also actively supported labor protests, including the farm workers’ strike and boycott against grape growers.
“Some of my early memories are going to the grocery store and wanting to buy some grapes and being told we can’t buy grapes,” the son said. “I didn’t grow up eating a lot of grapes in California.”
After several years, Mr. Hill once more was asked by the Socialist Workers Party to move, this time to the East Coast, his son said. The family lived briefly in Washington until moving to Baltimore in 1975.
As the Vietnam War wound down, Mr. Hill refocused his activities on union-building, his son said. To be part of the community he was trying to organize, Mr. Hill enrolled in an apprenticeship program through what is now Local 486 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada. He became a steamfitter, working in the Baltimore area on a wide range of projects, including some at Bethlehem Steel‘s Sparrows Point plant.
He remained a steamfitter until 2006, switching to work as a stationary engineer for Maryland’s Department of General Services until his retirement this year.
By the late 1970s, his marriage ended. Mr. Hill continued to actively support human rights and progressive politics, and it was through those efforts that he met his wife, Deborah Bedwell. She had gone to a community meeting in 1979 to learn more about the Iran hostage crisis, and Mr. Hill was one of the panelists.
“He was very knowledgeable and well-read about international and national political issues where human rights were concerned,” Ms. Bedwell said.
Afterward, Mr. Hill approached her to ask whether she had any questions. The two single parents discovered they had much in common, including a love of jazz, Ms. Bedwell said. Within a year, the two combined households and officially married in 2000.
At the time of their meeting, Ms. Bedwell was a potter and working on launching Baltimore Clayworks, a nonprofit ceramic arts center. The center’s founding director, she said her husband supported Clayworks by using his skills to weld the gas-fired kilns and maintain the heating system for several years until the center could afford to hire someone. He also volunteered at Clayworks’ fundraisers over the years.
“He understood the vision of the place and wanted to help it succeed,” said Pat Halle, a longtime member artist at Clayworks. He also was devoted to supporting his wife and her life’s work, Halle added.
Ms. Bedwell said her husband became a lover of art and the artist community, telling her, “The artists at Baltimore Clayworks have enriched my life immeasurably.”
Mr. Hill’s other interests that he shared with his wife include adopting Shetland sheepdogs, or Shelties, and traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
In addition to his wife and son, survivors include a stepson, Edward Bedwell of Frederick; three sisters, Kaye Porter of Omaha, Neb., Joyce Leiker of Denver, and Patti Elam of Overland Park, Kan.; and four grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Annemarie Catrambone ended in divorce.
—The Baltimore Sun, October 15, 2012
Remembrance from Vincent Ray Hill
My dad was the bravest person I’ve ever known. Whether it was organizing a mass of people at a political demonstration or engaging a complete stranger in a political discussion, he had a confidence about him that sprang from a dedication to connecting with people and working toward a more just society. He was a peaceful and respectful person. Even when engaging in a strong debate, he always tried to keep the conversation intellectual, not emotional.
He was a famous talker, and could literally stretch a conversation for an hour past the time when you thought the discussion was over. He cared deeply about the future of our country and directed this passion toward educating and organizing people in the community, especially young people, to defend their economic and human rights.
But his interests were far from just being political. He loved art, music, sports, science—all the things that make life fun and interesting, and which bring people together.
Whether it was going to an art opening at Baltimore Clayworks, talking to young adults about Linkin Park, or bemoaning a loss by the Ravens or Orioles, he loved connecting with people and getting to know them at a deeper level. He had a warm spirit, a ready smile and a twinkle in his eyes. Kids loved him—even children of friends called him “Baba.” He was generous of himself and his time, never rushing past an opportunity to engage with a child or talk with someone about issues in the community. He gave of himself completely to things that were right and just and loving, but he gave of himself more to his family and friends. He was a dedicated and loyal husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend—always ready to give his time, his moral support, his love, whenever it was needed. He was a strong and gentle man with a beautiful spirit, and this world was a better place with him in it. He was a leader and teacher and friend in life, and his spirit and memory will continue to be there for us when we need strength, moral guidance, or a little smile.
From Cindy Burke
My memory of the years that we worked together is very clear.
When I knew him, Richard was a key political leader in the Chicago branch of the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and then later in the Berkeley branch. The Chicago branch of the SWP recruited many future YSA (Young Socialist Alliance, the youth group of the SWP) and SWP leaders and Rich was among our best recruiters. Richard spent hours talking to young activists about revolutionary politics and especially Black, Puerto Rican and Chicano youth on the high school and college campuses and in organizations such as the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords.
Rich was an awe-inspiring salesperson for the Militant and I mean that literally—awe-inspiring. Once when we were out of town selling door to door at a campus, Rich sold out of all his single issues and proceeded to sell five more subscriptions simply by describing the coverage to the students.
He was endlessly patient with fellow members, sensitive and always confident about the future. He could explain ideas to the satisfaction of the newest member and to his fellow veteran activists.
These are just a few recollections from me.
From Gus Horrowitz
I’m very sorry to hear of Rich Hill’s passing.
I worked closely with Rich in Chicago, when I was organizer there in 1968. He was one of the main leaders of the YSA and SWP. When I left Chicago at the end of the year, Rich was elected as branch organizer.
Rich was active in all our activities that year—and there were a lot! Most famous were the August demonstrations at the Democratic Party convention, and the follow-up demonstrations a month later, when the Chicago antiwar movement organized the largest demonstrations in the city to protest the earlier police repression. Rich was a leader of our efforts in both cases.
Also important in our activities earlier that year were the defense of the protests around the assassination of Martin Luther King. Chicago exploded at the time. Also important was our election campaign, both national and statewide. Rich played a big role in both.
I do remember Rich not only as very capable, but also as a modest fellow. When he was proposed as branch organizer, he seemed genuinely surprised. But there was no doubt that he was the best person for the job.
From Lynn Henderson
My political and personal friendship with Richard goes back a long ways. We were comrades in the Chicago branch of the SWP in the 1960s. During that time we both had apartments in the same small building on Chicago’s west side. (It had only three or four units including the landlord’s apartment on the ground floor.) Richard, then a young leader in the Chicago branch, and I were in constant political discussions going from one apartment to another. It was then that I first became close to Richard. To say the least I was shocked on hearing of his sudden death.
I am reminded of Mark Twain in his autobiography describing the unexpected news of his favorite daughter’s sudden death: “I was standing in our dining room thinking of nothing in particular, when a cablegram was put into my hand. It said ‘Susy was peacefully released to-day.’ It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man [woman] all unprepared can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live.”
One of Richard’s great political attributes was his ability to engage people in discussion and debate, but in an entirely friendly, non-confrontational way, often winning them over to new points of view. What made this possible were Richard’s intrinsic kindness, intelligence and sincerity, which were so much a part of his personality.
A big test for members of the SWP occurred around 1980 when the Barnes leadership began to surreptitiously adapt to Stalinist political positions and undemocratically impose them on the organization. Over the years many SWP members subsequently recognized something had gone wrong and drifted away, but Richard was part of a more significant group that recognized the nature of what was going wrong while it was actually happening and stood up to fight against it even if it meant being shunned and expelled from the organization he had devoted years building. In doing this Richard demonstrated real political courage and intellectual integrity.
From Carl Finamore
I lost touch with Richard for the last number of years but have never, ever forgotten his political impact on me.
Rich literally and absolutely changed my life while I was a student at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle campus.
His son Vincent, who I remember as a newborn, captured so much of his warm and engaging father in his commemoration. I, too, remember those parts of Richard so fondly.
For me, it all began way back in 1966 when I was just twenty-years-old.
I never spoke with Richard but I had noticed him speaking often at various campus teach-in and educational events sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society and other of the newly emerging campus radical, civil rights and anti-Vietnam war groups.
Richard would always speak critically of the speakers for their less than radical positions. I remember him questioning their support to the Democratic Party and their hesitation to build protests that challenged more aggressively the power structure.
He was the only person at these meetings who ever spoke like this and he always spoke eloquently, with a quiet confidence that I later grew to know were his trademarks. His points made an impact on me.
I once asked if Richard had ever read the socialist newspaper, The Militant, which I had run into a few years earlier for a brief period.
For those who know Richard, it will be no surprise what happened next. His eyes literally lit up. He took me to his over-stuffed locker, which opened to a widely chaotic assortment of socialist newspapers, pamphlets and antiwar leaflets tumbling to the ground.
Then, we were off to the student cafeteria where we literally spoke for around four hours straight. No surprise, I did most of the listening.
After around two hours of Richard leaning over the lunch table talking to me, I was already hooked on his explanation of social revolution—ideas that politicized and channeled the deep alienation I felt at the “one percent” of the day.
I was totally captivated by what I was learning about the world and, more to the point, about my new place in it.
That was it. My life changed on that day and I hope and believe that throughout my life I have honored Richard and the ideas he first explained to me on that day and many, many subsequent days.
Deborah Bedwell, his wife and best friend will be glad to receive remembrances of Richard at her email address, which is: