Memorial Minute for Robert Hillegass

07-086 July 15, 2007 - Robert (Bob) Warren Hillegass died at his home in Greenfield, NH, of cancer, on May 14, 2007. He was born on May 19, 1924, in suburban Philadelphia to Harry and Rose Hillegass. Bob served in the U. S. Coast Guard and Navy during World War II and enrolled in Swarthmore College at the close of the war. Following graduation from Swarthmore, Bob met Virginia (Ginny) Hopkins while both were working at an Easter Seals summer camp for children with special needs. Their friendship soon grew into love, and they were married in 1953. Upon receiving a Master’s Degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania, Bob accepted a teaching position at George School, a Quaker School in Newtown, PA. Bob taught at George School for nine years during which time he felt the influence of his Quaker colleagues on his life. One faculty member he particularly remembered was William Hubben, the Quaker teacher and writer, born in Germany, who later became editor of the Friends Journal. While at George School, Bob and Ginny attended the Newtown Friends Meeting.

In 1960 Bob decided to leave George School to accept a position as an editor at the Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston. He and Ginny and their growing family (eventually a family of four daughters) moved to Needham, MA, where they participated in the activities of the Wellesley Friends Meeting, and, in time, both joined that Meeting. Bob then, after ten years with Houghton Mifflin, left his position in publishing in 1970.

At this point, Bob began a life of intense, full-time, peace activism. This activism was clearly prompted by his response to the enormity of the threat to human existence posed by the nuclear arms race. Feeling supported by Friends, he discovered and joined a peace group called Ailanthus. This was a Boston based group composed mostly of Roman Catholic lay people and clergy and committed to peace activism that included non-violent civil disobedience when such action was deemed appropriate by the group. The projects of Ailanthus led to arrest, trial, and, on occasion, incarceration for Bob and others. One such trial is described by Bob in a Pendle Hill Pamphlet, ”Nonviolence on Trial.” Many observers of this period consider the daring work of Ailanthus and similar groups to have been the sparks which ignited the widespread Nuclear Freeze Movement, a movement which contributed significantly to international policy decisions tamping down the arms race.

In 1989, Bob and Ginny moved to Greenfield, NH, the community of Ginny’s childhood, and the Monadnock Monthly Meeting in Jaffrey, NH, became their spiritual home. Bob continued his participation in socially significant action. He worked energetically and effectively in the AVP (Alternatives to Violence Program) in New Hampshire, an activity he had begun while living in Massachusetts. One former prison inmate remembered Bob as the person who helped to reshape his life. In his most recent years he gave his time and energies to NEFUN (New England Friends in Unity with Nature). He served on the NEFUN Committee for the New England Yearly Meeting and provided insights and leadership that helped shape the committee. One short paper he wrote for NEFUN he entitled “Towards a Quaker Ecology of Concerns.” In this paper he points out that all the Quaker testimonies are linked and all depend upon a sustainable natural world. As his paper concludes, “There is no peace on earth without peace with earth.”

At a personal level, Bob’s interest in environmental concerns was expressed in his raising of roses. Bob’s father had fostered this interest when Bob was a child. In a memorial service held at the Monadnock Meetinghouse, many friends spoke of the gracious way Bob had shared his joy in raising roses with them, and others spoke of the way he had enriched the environment of the meetinghouses where he worshipped with a frequent gift of roses. In fact, in his lifetime he used all the gifts given him to the fullest.