Richard W. Hill

Richard W. “Dick” Hill and his future wife, Lois Eliezer, crossed paths many times growing up in North Haledon and Fair Lawn, near Paterson, New Jersey.

Lois, however, went to the University of North Carolina to earn a bachelor’s degree in music, while Dick, after graduating from high school at 17, went on to complete a year of college at New York University before he was drafted to fight in World War II. He served in the 100th Infantry Division’s 373rd Field Artillery Battalion, which landed at Marseilles, France. on Oct. 20, 1944. They fought on Patton’s southern flank as German troops began their retreat until April 1945. The division remained in Europe during the post-war occupation until January 1946. When a school was set up in a hotel in France for the troops, Dick took two classes in physics and was encouraged by the professor to enter the field once he returned home.

While finishing his bachelor’s degree in physics at NYU, he unexpected met Lois on a bus. Six weeks later he proposed, with the condition that the wedding wait until he graduated. After getting married, they moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where Dick earned a PhD in nuclear physics at the University of Wisconsin. In was in Wisconsin that he met a 7-foot-tall World War I veteran and pacifist named Shorty Collins, who would have a major influence on his later career.

After working for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he took a job at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, in 1958. He initially designed x-ray counters for the lab’s underground nuclear weapons testing program. But influenced by Shorty Collins, he soon rejected nuclear weapons work and sought other projects.

Dick joined with other nuclear physicists at LLNL in making the first astronomical surveys of x-ray sources using sub-orbital rockets launched from the Pacific Missile Range at Barking Sands in Kauai, Hawaii, and the less glamorous Johnson Atoll and ships at sea. 

Towards the end of his career, he was a manager in the Chemistry Department at LLNL, where he led a research project in underground coal gasification. Major experiments were conducted in Centralia, Washington, and Hanna, Wyoming. He consulted with scientists in England, France and India. The goal was to avoid the strip-mining of shallow coal deposits by in-situ conversion of coal into cleaner-burning methane gas. Unfortunately, the experiments showed that it was difficult to prevent contamination of aquifers.

Dick and Lois taught their sons – Mark, Ray, and Bruce – geography by taking three motor trips across the country, taking northern, central and southern routes. They taught them current events and politics by watching the evening news together every night. After sending the boys off to college, the couple took numerous vacation tours through Europe. They were also active in the First Presbyterian Church of Livermore’s Mariners adult social group.

As a hobby, Dick carved wood sculptures, often using redwood driftwood. One piece is on exhibit at the Livermore Public Library. An intellectual but not an elitist, Dick was a voracious reader of pulp detective stories.

One year after Lois died of lymphoma in 2003, Dick met Inez Thomas. They moved to the Stoneridge Creek retirement community in Pleasanton in 2013. He died peacefully at the CreekView nursing facility at age 95 in early May 2020.