City fondly remembers former superintendent Dr. Wesley Hill

(Photo courtesy Fleming Photography)  This 2007 portrait of Dr. William Wesley Hill hangs near the the board room table of the Demopolis City Schools central office. Hill served as the head of the school system for 27 years.

(Photo courtesy Fleming Photography)
This 2007 portrait of Dr. William Wesley Hill hangs near the the board room table of the Demopolis City Schools central office. Hill served as the head of the school system for 27 years.

The Demopolis community mourned the loss of one of its long-time pillars Wednesday morning after retired city schools superintendent Dr. Wesley Hill passed away Tuesday evening.

“He was a good educator. He really was. He was a forward thinker,” retired Demopolis High principal Butch Russell said of Hill. “A lot of times, he was ahead of other school systems in terms of improvements. I think that’s why Demopolis, as a small system, was able to hold its own and to grow. He always had the student’s best interest at heart with the things that he did. He was a good person.”

Hill took over as superintendent in Demopolis in 1980 after having spent the early years of his education career in North Carolina and Georgia.

“When we met with him face to face, there was no doubt we were going to hire Wesley Hill. He was head and shoulders above everybody else,” Van Kelley, who served as chairman of the Demopolis City Schools Board of Education that hired Hill recalled. “The main thing we liked about him was he was such a deep thinker. He thought things out to an infinite degree before he presented them. He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around. A lot of people may not have known that because he was not a great public speaker. But he was one of the best planners and organizers I have ever been around.”

Hill is credited with elevating the status of Demopolis City Schools from a small, rural system to one of the premier systems in the state.

“I think it is just the success that the Demopolis City Schools system has today,” Demopolis High School principal Dr. Tony Speegle said of Hill’s legacy. “He came in and had to make some tough decisions. The board had to make some tough decisions and they all stood together and made them and supported each other. Generally decisions that were made were very well thought out and there were very little repercussions. He was a very highly competitive person. A lot of people may not know that. And he was a very patient man, was willing to wait on the victory.”

Hill served as superintendent from April 1980 until his retirement in July 2007.

“We always worked well together, and he always supported me in the decisions I made,” Robert Templin, who served as assistant superintendent under Hill, said. “We didn’t always agree, but we were always able to handle it in a professional manner. We weren’t just boss and employee, we were good friends.”

That personal relationship was one that a number of Hill’s employees shared with him as his trademark character and wisdom made him appealing to others on a personal level.

“He was very good at advice. It was always sound advice. Over the years, I talked to him about everything from coaching and athletics to running a schools and being a good assistant principal. He was always very understanding of what I was trying to do and how I was trying to do that. One thing that I always appreciated about him was that he always seemed to be about three or four months ahead of wherever we were in a process,” Speegle, who worked with Hill for 22 years, said. “I talked to him about raising children, raising my own kids and how he dealt with raising his children because his children were very successful and I wanted to kind of tap into how he handled that and what role he had in achieving that.”

Hill is survived by his wife, Barbara Oates Hill and his children William Wesley Hill Jr. and Holly. He is also survived by Jonathan, a grandson he and his wife raised as their own following the untimely passing of their daughter, Kimberly.

As those who knew him reflect upon his legacy and the character traits that helped him forge it, Hill’s work ethic and wise counsel continue to be brought to the forefront.

Hill foreshadowed those characteristics in his own words in an essay he wrote to the Demopolis City Schools Board of Education prior to his hire in 1980. The essay, entitled Duties of a New School Superintendent, contained Hill’s thoughts on exactly what his role should be were he to be hired as the head of the school system.

“Naturally my most favorite co-workers will be the hard workers who enjoy their work and enjoy thinking about their work. I especially like the people who put the welfare of children first in their minds,” Hill wrote.

And while he would later become known for his keen listening ear and sound advice, it is fitting that Hill would have predetermined guidelines for how he would address every professional situation.

“Student welfare should dominate all other matters when listening to advice, giving guidance, and making decisions,” Hill penned.

Hill was born in Henderson, N.C. on March 14, 1940. He held a B.S. degree from Appalachian State, a M.A. from Western Carolina and an Ed. D. from the University of Alabama. Hill was also a Rotarian and a Paul Harris Fellow, the organization’s highest honor.

“Dr. Hill’s actions and decisions reflected his values and (not coincidentally) the Four-Way Test. Dr. Hill’s word was his bond, and his word helped shape Demopolis into the community we all love,” current Demopolis Rotary Club President Rob Pearson wrote Wednesday morning in an email to club members. “Our love and prayers go out to his wife, Barbara, his daughter Holly, son Willy, and their families. We are forever thankful for Dr. Hill’s example of ‘Service Above Self.'”

There will be a visitation at Kirk Funeral Homes Demopolis Chapel Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at First United Methodist Church of Demopolis. Burial will take place at a later date in North Carolina.