Democrat File Photo
Tim Hill dead at 53
By Dan Hust
WOODBOURNE April 22, 2008 “He loved people.”
That’s how Chris Hill remembers her husband, and that’s how a host of locals do, too.
Though expected for some time, Democratic County Elections Commissioner Tim Hill’s death on Saturday nevertheless shocked those who knew the man who had come to personify the Democratic Party in Sullivan County.
“It came as quite a surprise,” Hill’s counterpart, Republican Elections Commissioner Rodney Gaebel, said yesterday. “I’m going to miss him.”
Though he admitted the two crossed swords occasionally, Gaebel called Hill a true friend, even when their jobs got in the way.
“Tim and I always got along,” said a somber Gaebel. “He was doing his job, and I was doing mine.”
Indeed, Hill, 53, could often be found in the Government Center office he occupied for much of the past three decades, even after being diagnosed in August with an unknown but aggressive form of cancer.
“He continued working right up till the very end,” said Chris, who marvelled at his devotion to family and politics. “He was very stoic. He never complained.”
Married for 28 years, Chris said she never knew a time when Tim didn’t have a passion for politics. That was obvious from the day she first met him in his former South Fallsburg business, the Village Inn.
“He was just so committed and so determined,” she recalled.
His love of animals and famous sense of humor caught her attention and soon her love, and the couple created a happy life in Woodbourne, not far from Tim’s roots.
That connection to family and friends was never broken, even as he rose through the ranks of the Democratic Party or became the president of the statewide Election Commissioners Association.
“He loved his family,” Chris said, recalling how hard he worked to balance his professional duties with taking care of his parents, Floyd and Barbara “Bumpy” Hill, in their last days.
That caring spirit, however, extended beyond family.
“He always listened to everybody,” said Chris. “He always heard both sides of the story [before making a decision].”
“There isn’t anybody all over the state that he didn’t know on a first-name basis and that didn’t like him,” added County Democratic Party Co-Chair Jim Greier, a longtime friend of the Hills.
Still, he was a definitive Democrat, eager and willing to illustrate his party’s strengths and the opposition’s weaknesses. He also knew election law better than most.
“He was a dedicated Democrat, and he loved his job,” said Greier. “He did his best for the county and on the state level.”
“Timmy was someone who took his job seriously,” remarked Democratic County Legislator Frank Armstrong, who credited Hill with helping him succeed in his political aspirations. “I really do think I owe Timmy a lot.”
Fellow Democrats will now have to determine who will take Hill’s place both as Elections Commissioner (the party will make a formal recommendation to the Legislature in the near future) and as Sullivan County Democratic Party Chair.
But that’s not the priority right now.
“We have to get over this hurdle first,” said Greier with deep sadness. “He is going to be missed.”
“Timmy was just a real knowledgeable guy, and he was a friend,” added Armstrong. “He was really genuine. He was easy to talk to, affable and had a good sense of humor. He was a good listener, too.”
“He truly loved politics,” seconded Legislator Leni Binder, a Democrat-turned-Republican. “He understood the mechanisms, and in fact, a lot of what I know about the process comes from the time I spent as a Democrat in Fallsburg. It is a tragic loss.”
“He was one of the longest-serving figures in Sullivan County politics and a loyal and dedicated friend,” said Legislature Chair Jonathan Rouis, who heads the governing county body in which Hill helped ensure a Democratic majority. “He has left large shoes to fill and will be sorely missed.”
Yet amidst the sorrow, a few laughs could still be heard. After all, Tim Hill never lost his renowned sense of humor or his penchant for sharing it.
“When I went to see Tim last week,” recalled Legislature Vice Chair Ron Hiatt, “I first thanked him for his years of friendship, and then I told him that I’d never forgive him for coercing me into public office. As he smiled, I could tell he was pleased with my complaint.”
“Tim was an incredible friend to me. He was somebody you could talk with easily, whether it was about politics or family matters. He was a source of strength for me when Jake passed away,” said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, referring to her late husband and predecessor. “During that first election, I would call him and he’d give me advice and support. He’d give me a push, when needed, to get out on the streets and walk door to door. He was a very special man who gave me so much during our friendship.”