James Calvin Hill, age 85, passed away on March 2 surrounded by family and loved ones after receiving a terminal diagnosis merely a month prior. Born in Roswell, N.M., in 1937 to James Madison and Zella Anola Hill, he first journeyed to Pagosa Springs in 1955 when he rented horses from the Jewel Carol Ranch with his dad and brother to pack into the Weminuche Wilderness for a fishing trip up around Granite and Divide Lakes. In 1960, he finally moved to Denver, Colo., pursuing a degree from the University of Colorado and has called this state home ever since. In his career, he sold insurance for State Farm for over 35 years in Broomfield, where he met the love of his life, Mary Beth. They married on Nov. 24, 1978. Jim’s life was not his career, though. Much as he enjoyed his work, his true calling was always the outdoors.
Over the course of his life, he summited numerous 14’ers, enjoyed backpacking and camping, rock hounded all over the country, and traveled the world exploring different cultures. Fly-fishing especially captured his heart. As a child, he learned to fish in New Mexico, and as an adult his passion for fly-fishing in particular led him to fish extensively throughout the West, as well as in the Bahamas, New Zealand, Belize, South Texas, Florida, South America and even Northern British Columbia. In his retirement, he and Mary Beth moved to Pagosa Springs, where he taught fly casting lessons for over 20 years while tying his own flies in his home office and serving as a fly-fishing guide on the Rancho Piñoso and other notable ranches in the area. Amongst his many accomplishments, his favorites were, of course, fishing-related. He was featured on the cover of Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine in 2011 and in the book “Fifty More Places To Fly Fish Before You Die” by Chris Santella after personally guiding the author along the Rio Blanco.
Jim was preceded in death by his parents; his sister Saranna; his son Kevin; and his beloved wife of 42 years, Mary Beth. He is survived by his three remaining children: Brett (Anne), Stephanie (Tim), Kimberly (Bill), six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and his brother, Jere (Lois), all of whom will miss him dearly as patriarch of the family.
The measure of a man is not in his accomplishments or those he leaves behind, however. It is in how he lived. I believe most people would agree in feeling his passing comes as a shock not because it was unexpected or sudden, but because Jim Hill was the type of person you imagined would just always be there. No matter what, he just kept on going, kept on fishing, kept on doing all the things people told him he was “too old” for. He took his boat out fishing on Lake Pagosa by himself every day up through his last summer. You could find him out raking his own pine needles from his yard every spring and fall. He’d insist on shoveling the snow from his own deck and driveway as long as it was “less than six inches.” He was the whole family’s self-appointed weatherman no matter where they lived or traveled. He read books too thick for most people to get through and lectured anyone who’d listen about what he was learning from physics to botany to archaeology. Talking to him, it seemed he knew something about nearly everything and experienced almost as much of it himself — a true Renaissance Man. Even though he wasn’t the most vocal, outspoken or extroverted person, you always knew he was there. You could depend on his advice, his stories, his traditional chile verde, his precisely concocted gin martinis and his unwavering presence through the years. A true friend to innumerable people from his journeys near and far, his legacy is one of love and adventure. With a say with assurance that his memory will be something everyone who knew him can depend upon just as reliably as the man himself. He lived well until the end. He loved well until the end.
A celebration of his life will be held later this summer, but in the meantime, please take time to honor his legacy in your own way and by surrounding yourself in the beauty of nature, as that’s how he would have wanted everyone to remember him. Donations in his memory can be made to Fly Fishers International, Trout Unlimited or The Folded Flag Foundation in lieu of flowers.