June 18, 2007
Margaret Hunt Hill came into the world 91 years ago with big boots to fill. The oldest child of legendary petroleum tycoon H.L. Hunt Jr., she embraced the challenge from the Texas oil fields to the red rocks of Colorado Springs.
Margaret Hill — who along with her husband, Al Hill Sr., developed the Kissing Camels Estates and Golf Club, the Garden of the Gods Club and the Seven Falls attraction in Cheyenne Canyon — died Thursday in her Dallas home after an extended illness. She had planned to begin summering at her Colorado Springs estate Monday. Instead, a memorial service was held at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas after a private interment. A private celebration will be held later at the family compound here overlooking Garden of the Gods. “She loved the view,” said Lyda Hill, her daughter. Margaret and Al Hill bought the scenic 1,600-acre mesa east of Garden of the Gods Park in 1949, two years after buying Seven Falls. They built the Garden of the Gods Club in 1951 as a private refuge at the foot of Pikes Peak, a lure for prominent Texans like themselves seeking to escape the Southern summer heat. Next, the Hills built Kissing Camels Golf Club and the gated Kissing Camels Estates, one of the city’s most posh neighborhoods. This from the girl who once told her dad it was an “inconvenience having money.” Still, she put it to use. She invested. She donated to causes. She hobnobbed with presidents and prime ministers. She worked the gift shop at Seven Falls. She made her mark as a businesswoman, civic leader and gardener. Through it all, the daughter of the man Life magazine once named “the richest man in America” bought her clothes on sale. “Doesn’t everybody?” said her daughter. Former Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace mingled with Margaret Hill at meetings and social events. “She was a woman of opinion,” Makepeace said. “I found her to be an interesting combination — she was elegant and saucy. She was very much the lady, from the purse to the gloves. She made comments you might not expect from a lady, but she did it in such a nice way.” A Gazette reporter recalled Hill wore a leather miniskirt to an interview in 1994, when she was in her late 70s. Her contributions endure. “Both she and Al Sr. cared very much for their community; that generosity is continuing through their children,” Makepeace said. Al Hill Sr. died of complications from hip surgery in 1988, four months shy of the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary. They met at a 1938 Petroleum Club ball in Dallas, where he’d gone to make money after dropping out of Colorado College. Margaret Hill grew up traveling the back roads of East Texas oil fields with her dad and started out working for his company as a switchboard operator. Her interest in gardening transcended her 1934 title as Queen of the Tyler Rose Festival, a huge deal in Texas, with a rose named in her honor. She designed the landscaping for the Air Force Academy Football Stadium in 1962. She founded Kissing Camels Garden Club. The list goes on. “She liked showing off Colorado Springs,” her daughter said. The legacy continues with Lyda, who in 1995 built the $3.5 million Visitor and Nature Center at Garden of the Gods. Money, indeed, had its inconveniences. Margaret Hill was a major financial backer of Colorado Springs-based Western Pacific Airlines, which went bankrupt in 1997. Her illustrious family history was the talk of Texas for decades. At age 78, Hill decided to set the record straight about such matters as her father’s secret second family with another woman and their four kids. “I had believed it was because of business that we sometimes didn’t see him,” she wrote in an as-told-to memoir, “H.L. and Lyda: Growing Up in the H.L. Hunt and Lyda Bunker Hunt Family.” Her awards include the 1996 Komen Foundation National Philanthropy Award, the 1999 Dallas Historical Society Award for Excellence and the YWCA Family of the Year Award in 2000. She served as Dallas Women’s Club president, Easter Seal chairwoman and as a member of countless boards. Survivors include her children Lyda, Al Jr. and Alinda; seven grandchildren; and eight great-grand children. Donations can be made to The Garden of the Gods Foundation, P.O. Box 49033, Colorado Springs, CO 80949-9033 or Planned Parenthood, Rocky Mountain Chapter, 950 Broadway, Denver, CO 80203. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0253 or firstname.lastname@example.org