Richard W. Hill, M.D.
Dr. Richard Hill, 94, founding CEO of Mayo Arizona, passed away peacefully at Mayo Hospital Phoenix on March 24, 2021, surrounded by loving family with the fine care of Mayo colleagues.
Born in 1927, Dick Hill was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania by Ralph and Alice Hill. Ralph had 5 brothers and 6 sisters - all of whom graduated from Carthage College in Illinois with degrees in Chemistry. During the Depression, Ralph joined Armstrong Cork and Linoleum in Lancaster, while his brothers and sisters remained academic professors and researchers. Alice was the Director of Music at Carthage College, where she and Ralph met. They both loved classical music, played piano and sang. They taught their sole child Richard to do the same.
Richard was healthy as a child, until his diagnosis with Perthes Disease at the age of 9. As the ball of his left femur deteriorated, he was bed-ridden for over a year. Young Dick loved National Geographic, so his parents papered his bedroom walls with maps of around the world. A professor friend of the family secured a microscope for him, triggering a deep interest in biology and medicine.
After many months of being unable to even touch the floor, he started to grow stronger. He learned to walk with crutches, then a cane into seventh grade, when he was given a clean bill of health. When asked how long it took him to learn how to run again, he said, “About 10 minutes.”
To “toughen him up”, a childless uncle hired a former professional boxer to work with Dick. Leo Houck from Lancaster began teaching him how to box as he entered high school. Dick also became a competitive swimmer in high school, while he continued boxing. In his high school yearbook, he announced his hopes of someday being a doctor.
After high school, Dick entered nearby Franklin and Marshall College while still living at home. After one year, he left college to join the Navy, specializing in radio transmission and signaling on a Liberty Ship in the Atlantic.
After 2 years, he returned to Franklin and Marshall for his final 3 years, majoring in Biology and graduating with honors. He attended Thomas Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, becoming a top student before graduating and interning at Lancaster General Hospital. Dick travelled for further training to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He remained with Mayo for the rest of his career.
While at Mayo, Dick earned a Masters in Gastroenterology at the University of Minnesota and explored other specialties before settling on Hematology and Internal Medicine. That prepared him well for the Mayo “team” system, where he became a respected hematologist.
A broader public interest, however, opened leadership at Mayo. The Minnesota government was pushing to reduce health care costs, so they set up Professional Service Regulatory Organizations (PSROs). Believing that doctors could guide their own cost-cutting destinies, Dick reached out to other doctors, organizing a South Minnesota PSRO. He became its first President.
He presented plans for the new PSRO to the Mayo Board of Governors, gaining their support. More importantly, that presentation piqued their interest in Dick’s leadership potential. A year later, after 22 years as a Mayo doctor, Dick was invited to join the Mayo Clinic Board of Governors in 1974. His influence steadily grew on the board, where he chaired numerous board committees, including the Personnel Committee during a time of tremendous growth.
He rose to become Vice Chairman of the Board in 1975. In 1980, Mayo formed a committee to answer a vital but high-risk question: should Mayo expand beyond Rochester to meet growing demands for their services? His initial committee reports focused on how growth could threaten their trademark team approach to medicine, cost and patient quality. Could smart design and evolving technology potentially offset those threats? Ultimately, the benefits of exposing more patients to world class medicine won out. They decided to expand, but only in two places - one in Jacksonville, where land was donated, and one in the southwest. The committee outlined an expansion plan where, as Dick noted, “three locations could act and function as one”.
The Board asked Dick to leave his Hematology practice and Rochester to create a Mayo southwest presence. Lovers of travel, he and his wife Barbara enthusiastically agreed.
Initially, some Phoenix doctors felt apprehensive of Mayo’s presence. Dick’s methodical, “doctor-first” sensibilities helped win them over. Humble and respectful, he developed friendships quickly. His style was unassuming, low-key in front of groups, yet decisive. His open-door policy and fondness for MWA (“manage by walking around”) made him accessible and close to challenges and opportunities in the new clinic.
Dick’s life experiences honed his leadership style. His family’s chemistry talents and strong women taught him the discipline of bench scientists while recognizing the capacity of women in medicine. As a bed-ridden child, he learned empathy, observation and science skills. As a boxer and athlete, he learned to stand tall in the Navy and beyond.
That style helped him connect with Phoenix hospital leaders in the early 80’s. Dick created a ten-year plan to strengthen local hospitals and health systems - not just Mayo’s startup. Dick secured land and began recruiting world-class doctors for the new desert venture.
Dick and Barbara immersed themselves into their new community, building support for Mayo and local interests, including Little Leagues, Heard Museum, Scottsdale Cultural Center, St Vincent de Paul, Phoenix Symphony (where Dick became chairman) and numerous others.
In retirement, Dick and Barbara loved to travel. They explored Europe and the middle east, travelling often by train and Euro-pass. A downhill skier until the age of 78, he also loved fly fishing, golf, photography and classical music.
Dick loved his family. He had no brothers or sisters, but he and Barbara had 10 kids between them: Susan Langins (Andy), Lida Seamans (Dan), Kathy Hill, Steve Hill (Laurel), Lon Johnson, Lana Kennedy (Ray), Mark Johnson (Frances), Marty Johnson (Liz), Greg Johnson (Cindy) and Jenny Johnson, 17 grandkids and 11 great grandkids. They travelled throughout the country attending their grandchildren’s special events.
They also “adopted” Daniel Bol Kur, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” refugees, along with his growing family.
The family is grateful for the care and support of Mayo Clinic, Hospice of the Valley and caregiver Travis Mason.
Memorial services will be at St. Joan of Arc Church in Phoenix at 5:00 on April 30, followed by a Celebration of Life.
Memorial gifts can be sent to:
The Barbara L. and Richard W. Hill, M.D. Scholarship Fund at Mayo Medical School Arizona