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Remembering Pittsburgh Philanthropist Henry Hillman

A deeply private man, Hillman’s leadership and donations are credited with the city’s rebirth after the collapse of the steel industry.

photo courtesy of elsie hillman foundation

“The whale gets harpooned only when he spouts,” Henry L. Hillman told Pittsburgh Magazine in 2006. The Pittsburgh billionaire financier and philanthropist despised publicity. 

“We just don’t believe in tooting our horn and talking about things,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1991. “Call it modesty, or reticence or anything else, but I think it is the best way to be.”

Hillman died Friday of age-related complications at UPMC Shadyside. He was 98.

With a keen investment eye, he became the wealthiest man in Pittsburgh and a regular on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans.

He had a gift for making money and giving it away.

Through the Hillman Foundation, he donated millions to a wide variety of civic causes, many in the fields of science, technology and medicine.

Here is a just a small list of institutions which bear his name:

  • Hillman Library of the University of Pittsburgh
  • Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
  • Hillman Cancer Center, hub of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.
  • Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy
  • Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University
  • Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantation at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC

"Pittsburgh has lost another Patriarch, Henry Hillman. Mr. Hillman led the efforts of Pittsburgh's first renaissance. Along with his beloved wife, Elsie, he helped to create numerous non-profit organizations that have led directly to Pittsburgh's rebirth,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in a statement.

“Far beyond their own family Foundation, Henry & Elsie have proven that civic leadership in Pittsburgh can save a city, rebuild a city and transform a city. Henry Hillman will always be remembered as a leader who changed an industrial city into a 21st Century city.”

Hillman and his late wife, Elsie, received dozens of award and honorary degrees over the years for their generous donations of time and money. Pittsburgh Magazine named them Pittsburghers of the Year for 2006.

At the time, the couple had been married 61 years. PM asked about the key to their marital longevity?

Henry replies: “By my saying, ‘Yes, Dear.’”

They laughed.

“Both of us have a good sense of humor and a lot of patience and tolerance and understanding,” Elsie said.

Visitation is from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday at John A. Freyvogel Sons funeral home in Shadyside. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside. The family asks that those who wish to honor Hillman contribute to either the Hillman Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute or the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

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