Henry L. Hillman, a Pittsburgh-based philanthropist and member of the Hillman family, who donated millions to the construction of Pitt’s Hillman Library, died Friday evening.
Hillman passed away at 98 years old, on April 14.
The Hillman Family Foundations — a parent office for each of the 18 Hillman foundations — announced Hillman’s death on its website this weekend, highlighting his Pittsburgh-based philanthropy by writing “his dedication to Pittsburgh was — and will remain — a defining characteristic of his long life.”
According to Hillman’s biographical website, his multiple foundations have contributed millions to UPMC Children’s Hospital, Pitt’s Cancer Institute, Pitt’s University Library System and Carnegie Mellon University.
His philanthropic nature was closely intertwined with his business sense, approaching his philanthropy with the same care he did his business dealings.
“A lot of people think it’s easy to give away money,” Hillman said in his website biography. “But if you’re not careful you can just throw it away. I have discovered that giving intelligently and effectively can be just as hard as investing intelligently and effectively.”
Hillman’s evolution from businessman to philanthropist happened over the course of many years. He was born in Pittsburgh December 25, 1918, and attended Shady Side Academy. Hillman began his philanthropic and business endeavors after graduating from Princeton University in 1941 and serving as a Naval pilot until 1945.
Following his father and his father before him, Hillman began building his fortune by working in the iron industry. As vice president of J. H. Hillman & Sons — which would later be named The Hillman Company — the young businessman expanded the sales of the Pittsburgh Coke & Chemical Company, which traded iron, coal products and carbon-based fuels. According to the biography section of his website, Hillman got involved in philanthropy during the late 1960s and early ’70s when he served as president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, with a focus on lessening the economic inequalities facing African-Americans in Pittsburgh. He also served as a trustee for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Pitt, among many other organizations.
“I think it was participation on those boards that got me interested in philanthropy,” Hillman said on his website biography. “When you are participating in a place where you and your family live, you get a good feel for what needs to be done.”
Since then, Hillman contributed $20 million to help fund cancer research at the Pitt Cancer Institute and UPMC CancerCenter in 2005. He also donated $10 million in 2008 to CMU to fund computer science research.
“Henry didn’t just provide funding,” Stanley M. Marks, chairman of UPMC CancerCenter said in a press release Saturday. “He wanted to know what research was being done and what progress was being made. He was intrigued by the science and the paradigm shift that is taking place in the way we approach cancer.”
The Pitt University Library System also released a statement on his passing, focusing on the Hillman Family Foundation’s contributions that helped make the construction of the Hillman Library possible.
“[His legacy] is particularly visible through the hundreds of thousands of students, faculty and researchers who have used the Hillman Library to advance their important work since its construction,” the ULS said in the release, adding that the university is preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the library this year.
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and Chancellor Emeritus Mark A. Nordenberg also praised Hillman for his philanthropic work in the city in statements on Twitter Friday night. Nordenberg called Hillman a “shining example of human goodness” and Gallagher commended him for being a great “architect” of the city.
“A pioneering business leader who had an abiding love for his city and a commitment to improving it, Henry and his beloved wife Elsie forever changed Pittsburgh and all of us privileged enough to live and work here,” Gallagher said in his statement.