Lyda Hill, whose philanthropy is guided by the credo that “science is the answer,” received the 2015 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award from SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility at a luncheon on Thursday, April 2 at Dallas’ Belo Mansion. The annual award honors a community leader who exemplifies ethical, inspiring leadership.
Hill, president of the real estate, tourism and venture investment firm LH Holdings, and granddaughter of oilman H. L. Hunt, has spent her life dedicated to what she calls “balancing profit with a purpose.”
“I really believe that whether we’re talking hunger, poverty, cancer, you name it, science is where we’ll find the answers,” she told Philanthropy in 2014, adding that her focus is on “things that are going to make a big difference to a lot of people for a long time.”
“Over the past several years Lyda’s zest for adventure has been surpassed by the sheer joy she derives from making transformational gifts to organizations and causes dedicated to making Dallas a better community in which to live and work,” says Bobby B. Lyle ’67, vice-chairman of the Maguire Center advisory board, longtime SMU trustee and namesake of SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering.
Lyle says Hill “has set audacious goals for her philanthropy,” with interests ranging from education to medical research to healthcare and human services for the elderly. “In whatever she undertakes, she sets the bar high and leads by example,” he says. “Many of her gifts are given quietly, without fanfare. Others are legendary. And all are having a tremendous positive impact on lives throughout our city and across the nation.”
In 2010 Hill became a member of The Giving Pledge, created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit a majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Hill has pledged to donate all of her assets to charity, the bulk of it during her lifetime. She was recognized in 2013 as the only single woman on the Philanthropy list of most generous donors, having now given an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars to “game-changing” charities primarily focused on life-sciences research.
Rita Kirk, director of the Maguire Center, notes that Hill quotes Walt Disney on her foundation’s website. “Like Disney, Lyda Hill makes it ‘fun to do the impossible.’ She understands the strategic use of her resources, the magic created when people dare to dream greatly, and the impact strategic giving can have on our community – and even the world.”
Hill was a founder of the Oklahoma Breast Care Center as well as Remeditex Ventures, which supports early biomedical research by universities and health care institutions “that can take promising advances to the marketplace quickly,” she says.
Her philanthropic support of the life sciences includes her $50 million gift pledged to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Moon Shots Program, which aims to eliminate cancer through improved cancer-detection techniques and therapeutic treatments that Hill, a breast cancer survivor, hopes will “break cancer’s code.”
Hill also has donated $20 million to her alma mater, The Hockaday School, to fund a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program; $10 million to the “I Stand for Parkland” capital campaign; and $6 million in pledges to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the Center for Brain Health to help military service members and veterans recover from traumatic brain injuries.
Hill has helped a variety of environmental/marine conservation efforts through the Nature Conservancy and Pew Charitable Trusts. She also has supported such community-revitalization projects as Klyde Warren Park, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge (named for her mother) and The Trinity Trust.
Past winners of the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award, now in its 18th year, include Gail Griffin Thomas, Nancy Ann & Ray Hunt, Walter J. Humann, Ruth S. Altshuler, Bob Buford, Ronald G. Steinhart, Michael M. Boone, Zan W. Holmes Jr., Roger Staubach, Caren Prothro, Tom Luce, Ron Anderson, Jack Lowe Jr., William T. Solomon, Stanley H. Marcus, Charles C. Sprague and Curtis W. Meadows Jr.
Written by Denise Gee