Marian Jones Hills, 96, Watertown

WATERTOWN, NY — Marian Jones Hills, 96, Watertown, NY, died April 4, 2019, while in the care of hospice of Jefferson County, surrounded by her family and caregiver.

Born May 31, 1922, Marian was the daughter of William Moses and Elsie (Flower) Jones, she graduated from Watertown High School, then attended Syracuse University, and graduated from Simmons College in Boston.

She married William Paul Hills on June 13, 1953, at First Presbyterian Church, in Watertown.

Marian trained and served as a Red Cross nurse’s aide at the House of the Good Samaritan during World War II before service in Europe, where she operated a Red Cross Clubmobile in France and Germany in 1945 and 1946.  After the war, she played a key role in bringing American Red Cross bloodmobiles to Jefferson County, and continued her work with the Red Cross over many years.

She was serving as chairman of Jefferson County Red Cross at the time of the Blizzard of 1977. She directed extensive disaster relief work in the wake of that historic storm, organizing food, shelter and clothing efforts for the many displaced and distressed storm victims.  For years she managed Red Cross shelters in Jefferson County after fires, floods, ice storms and other emergencies.  She received national, state and local recognition for her work, including the Jefferson County Red Cross David C. Knowlton award in 1976 and, with her husband, William Hills, the George E. Cox award in 1980. Later she was cited by the U.S. Army for sustained relief efforts on behalf of a gravely injured soldier at Fort Drum.

Marian was somewhat ahead of her time in pursuing a career before marriage.  She was closely identified with Jones Sport Shop, her father’s business on Public Square. In the late 1940s she developed a ski and sportswear department for the shop that flourished, serving the newly popular sport of downhill skiing, a passion of hers since her teens. She loved retail and relished buying trips to New York City and introducing high quality lines of clothing and sports gear to the North Country.  She was famous for the letter belt, a stylized leather cinch with a brass letter buckle that she designed and had made exclusively for sale at the shop.

Marian served on many non-profit boards, including the Jefferson County SPCA, the Canton College Foundation, and the Women’s Auxiliary of the Samaritan Medical Center.  She was a founding and life member of the Friends of the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center, and served there for more than 40 years. She was a deacon and elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Watertown. She also directed the special gifts campaign of the United Fund/United Way for several years.

In her late fifties Marian embarked on a new career as a real estate agent, and worked in that field for almost 25 years. She was associated with the Coldwell Banker Rimada Realty firm in Watertown and received recognition from the Coldwell Banker national office for her work. Her realty work coincided with the expansion of Fort Drum, and she was well known as a leading home seller in Jefferson County for many years.

Marian was a doer. In 1969, for example, on very short notice, she organized a group photo of all the children on her block of Paddock Street. It was the era of free range kids and endless kickball games, mothers ringing a bell at the end of the day to herd children home for dinner. One spring day she recognized a moment and asked the Watertown Daily Times to send a photographer over.  Thirty-sevens kids from the block assembled in her back yard and the black and white photo that appeared in the paper hung on a wall in her home ever after.

One of the last statements Marian uttered was “I love the outdoors.” She played tennis and swam, but her love of outdoor activity showed most in skiing. She skied competitively for the Syracuse University women’s ski team, and was active in the original development of the Dry Hill Ski Area in Watertown. She pursued the sport into her 70s, and over her life skied as far and wide as the Rockies, the Alps and the Andes.

Marian also loved animals and wildlife. She was a lifelong birder, able to identify hundreds of species, and in her 80s was still game for trip to Maine to see puffins.  She spent much of her last ten years monitoring her bird feeder and watching for deer. At last when vision failed, she enthusiastically followed verbal reports of bird migration reports and deer movement.

Domestically, female pets were seldom spayed. Boxes of kittens regularly appeared at Jones Sports Shop. One daughter brought a litter of kittens to Show and Tell in Kindergarten. Marian’s children recall a signature caper: one evening, at a loss how to resolve what had become too many cats in the house, she packed kids and a kitten in the seatbelt-less station wagon, drove to a friend’s house a few blocks away, and while the kids waited in the car, snuck to the front porch, cracked the door, pushed the kitten inside, quickly shut the door and rang the bell, and then ran back to the car, speeding away seconds later. The kitten lived a long and happy life as a member of the Findlay family. No one in either family ever said a word.

Marian is survived by her sons James S. Hills of Brookline, MA, and William P. Hills and wife Sharon Schoffmann, also of Brookline; her daughters Day F. Hills of Sackets Harbor, NY, and Carol B. Hills and her husband Matthew Thurber of Dedham, MA.  She also leaves three grandchildren, Sonia S. Hills, Tai Thurber, and Day Thurber; nieces Florence Hart Swartz and Nancy Hart Taylor, and several cousins.  She was predeceased by her husband William P. Hills, her sister Frances Jones Hart, and her parents Elsie F. Jones and William M. Jones.

Calling hours will be at 10 a.m. to nnon Monday, April 8, at Cleveland Funderal Home, 404 Sherman St., Watertown, followed by a 1 p.m. memorial service the First Presbyterian Church, 403 Washington St., Watertown. A reception will be held at the church immediately following the service.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Jefferson County S.P.C.A. and Hospice of Jefferson County.