Faculty Room: Meet the Real Ned Hill
Most who hear the name Ned Hill think of Professor Hill, Dean Hill, or President Hill. But not everyone gets the chance to know the “real” Hill.
We sat down to talk to Hill about his life outside of the spotlight—his hobbies, history, and what he’s been up to since finishing his term as Marriott School dean and returning home from a mission in Romania and Moldova.
Truth be told, his life hasn’t slowed down too much. He currently teaches international finance and global treasury management at BYU and serves on several boards and committees. He also helps take care of his nearly ninety-seven-year-old mom. He stays and visits with her often and occasionally takes her bird-watching—something they both enjoy.
In fact, Hill’s interest in birding has taken him across the globe. He’s spent weeks at a time bird-watching in the beautiful mountains of Peru and Costa Rica, the exotic lands of Australia, Brazil, and Kenya, and the Ecuadorian Amazon rain forest. His goal to see half of all the bird species in the world is coming along nicely, as he has seen about a third of them—roughly three thousand different types of birds.
“It’s taken me to really fun places and allowed to meet really fun people,” Hill says. “A while back, the former secretary of defense and secretary of energy agreed to come speak to BYU on the terms that I take him birding here in Utah County. We had quite the time!”
President Boyd K. Packer also became a close friend of Hill’s thanks to their shared love for birds. Upon returning from birding trips, Hill would take photos of exotic birds to show President Packer. One time he showed President Packer some pictures from an excursion and was chastised for not taking his friend with him.
“As if he could go!” Hill says. “I’ve had some funny experiences with President Packer. He would often call my secretary and say, ‘I’ve got to speak to Ned Hill right now. It’s urgent.’ So he would get on the phone with me and say, ‘Ned, I’ve got a cool bird in my yard and you have got to come up and look at it!’”
Hill has passed on his love of nature and bird-watching to his family. His daughter has published multiple children’s books about birds, and on his grandkids’ seventh birthdays, Hill gives each a pair of binoculars, a bird book, and a local, private bird-watching tour.
Luckily, seventeen of his eighteen grandchildren and four of his five children live nearby. “We love having them close and we do a lot with them,” he says. “My wife, Claralyn, teaches ‘grandma school’ twice a week. She teaches the grandkids dancing and singing, and takes them on field trips.”
Hill and Claralyn met in the University of Utah’s institute choir and have been married for forty-eight years. Provo has been their home for many of those years, but they have spent their fair share of time in other parts of the country. They lived in New York while Hill attended graduate school at Cornell, and they spent a decade in Indiana while he taught at Indiana University.
One of the biggest challenges came when the Hills were a young family of four during the Vietnam War. A mere two hours before he was to take the final exam of his Cornell master’s program in chemistry, Hill received a draft notice.
“That was the blackest day of our lives,” Hill recalls. “We had been watching that war. So many people had been killed. But we knelt down by our couch there and we prayed, and we just had a warm, wonderful feeling come over us like everything would be okay.”
Turns out it was okay.
“When we were at the end of basic training, they lined us up and told us, ‘You’re all going to go where you were assigned except for two of you,’” Hill says. “They announced that one of the guys would be a medic and told me I was going to Dugway, Utah, as a physical scientist and chemist. So I got to be a chemist and fight in the dry jungles of Dugway instead of the jungles of Vietnam.”
While there, he was not only involved in the testing of military bombs and nerve agents, but also his third son was born two months premature. After an extensive period of worry as their baby fought to survive—and thanks to some of the newest neonatal technology—they finally brought their son home.
When life calmed down, Hill decided to enroll in engineering and business courses on base to pass the time. “I had never taken a business course in my life,” he recalls. “I was a scientist! I had graduated in chemistry and to me, business was for people who couldn’t get into anything else. You know, the guys who played football and got hit in the head too many times. I thought business was selling used cars!”
To his surprise, Hill continued to find interest in his business courses while his career in chemistry became less and less exciting. After turning down medical school, he changed his career path and graduated with a PhD in finance.
“Business was exactly what I needed,” Hill says. “It was much more people-oriented than chemistry and had a lot to do with current events.”
Forty years after that career change Hill has come full circle, sharing his love of the finance field with his students.
“I love it—all of it!—and I always wanted to be a teacher,” he says. “So here I am teaching, and it’s just wonderful.”