Passed away peacefully in the home of her daughter Dr. Alison Hillman in Newfoundland. Her memory will be cherished by children Alison, Jamie (Joanne Scarlett), Don (Ruth Kipp), Alan, Elizabeth (Paul Coxworthy), grandchildren Adam Coxworthy and James Purvis, sister Toby Rainey and sister-in-law Elizabeth Waterston plus many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, friends and mentees around the world. Predeceased by husband Donald, parents Cela and Fred, and siblings Bill, Joan (Reid) and Margaret.
Always a trailblazer, she became the first female president of the Medical Council of Canada in 1981. She and her husband were appointed Officers of the Order of Canada in 1994 for having “consistently used their talents and energy to improve the welfare of children throughout the world.”
Born in Clinton, Ontario, Liz spent her school years with her family in a railway car that was their home and also a mobile schoolhouse. Her parents, Fred and Cela Sloman taught their children along with the families of trappers, miners and railway workers, many of whom were recent immigrants, as the CNR School on Wheels moved through Northern Ontario from Capreol to Foleyet. This was Liz’s only school until she entered the University of Western Ontario. Liz received the Girl Guides’ highest honour, the Gold Cord, from Lady Baden Powell, who was on a Canadian tour. When she was eight years old, Liz told her father she was going to be a doctor; she never wavered in her dream.
Liz completed her MD in 1951 and received postgraduate training at UWO, McGill, Great Ormond Street in London, Harvard, and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. While interning in Boston in 1955, she married a fellow paediatrician from Montreal, Donald Hillman. She began her professional career in 1957 at McGill University as Director of the Ambulatory Department at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Liz and Don worked as a formidable team for 51 years until Don’s death in 2006.
In 1969 the family, now including 5 children under 13 years old, headed to Africa, where Liz and Don spent two years at the newly established medical school at the University of Nairobi and the Kenyatta National Hospital in Kenya; the family returned for another two years from 1974 to ’76. After twenty years at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and McGill University, the Hillmans moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where Liz was professor of paediatrics at Memorial University and Director of Ambulatory Education at the Janeway Child Health Centre. Liz and Don continued to work with the Canadian International Development Agency during the 1970s and 80s on projects that included the Child and Maternal Education Program in Uganda; programs in primary paediatric healthcare in Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda and Kenya; and medical education in Kenya and Uganda.
From centres for international health based at McMaster and the University of Ottawa in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Hillmans helped to develop international health education for undergraduates and postgraduates, on projects in Guyana, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, and the Philippines, Uganda, and elsewhere. Liz and Don were also pioneers in the field of telehealth, including using the internet to add international expertise and resources to medical education and care in developing countries.
During all these years, Liz’s anchor was the small cottage in the Laurentians where she spent happy summers with family and friends, and welcomed many students and colleagues. She loved cats and dogs and could – and often did – read a book a day. She was an early enthusiast and devotee of email, sending encouraging messages and vivid descriptions of the world she took such joy in sharing.
The list of her awards is long and includes the CPS Alan Ross Award (1989), the Royal College James H. Graham Award (1995), the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Canadian Society for International Health (2000) and n honorary doctorate of laws degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland (2004). After Don’s death in 2006, awards to honour the Hillmans were created at UBC, McGill, Memorial, the Canadian Paediatric Society, and the Canadian Society For International Health. In 2011 Liz received the first Hillman-Olness Award for Lifetime Service and Lasting Contributions to Global Child Health from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on International Child Health, and in 2014 she was made an Honorary Member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. Her message to the students and doctors she mentored was a simple one: “Nothing ever turns out as you expect, and you must enjoy every minute together.” She had that same message for her friends.
Liz Hillman devoted her life to promoting the health and well-being of children and to inspiring others to do the same. In the 1970s she battled Nestlé when the corporation was promoting infant formula over breastfeeding in developing countries. This campaign led to hearings in the US Senate and the World Health Organization, resulting in a new set of marketing rules.
She mentored several generations of young doctors around the world, encouraging a balance of family and professional life, often with fun and laughter. And daughter Alison followed her parents into the medical field. Liz summed up the challenge of Global Child Health work, saying: “There is always more to be done and never enough time to do it all – which is why we must teach others.”
After Don’s death, and as advancing dementia dimmed Liz’s bright spark, family, friends and many others formed a circle of care and kindness to support her continued well-being and quiet enjoyment of life, which included travel and time at the cottage.
In honour of her late husband, Liz Hillman established the Hillman Medical Education Fund to support health education and to foster future leaders in medicine, particularly in East Africa. Donations in memory of Liz Hillman may be made to https://www.rosecharities.ca/category/hillman-fund/.
A celebration of Liz’s life will be held at a later date.