Obituary: Kim Hill, 44, whose fight with leukemia led to first Ronald McDonald House

By Dennis McLellan
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 6:01 PM

Kim Hill, whose childhood battle with leukemia was the catalyst for the creation of the first Ronald McDonald House, died March 5 at a hospital in Orange, Calif. She was 44.

Radiation treatments to overcome leukemia as a child had caused the formation of brain tumors as an adult, said her father, Fred Hill.

Fred Hill was a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1969 when he and his wife, Fran, learned that 3-year-old Kim had acute lymphatic leukemia.

"The doctor started crying when he told us," Fred Hill recalled. "He said kids don't usually live with this type of leukemia for more than six months. We were devastated."

But Kim defied the odds. Over the next 3½ years, she underwent chemotherapy as well as radiation to her brain every day for two weeks when she was almost 4.

In 1971, two years into their daughter's treatment, the Hills helped organize a fundraising fashion show in which the wives of Eagles team members modeled fur coats.

"We only expected 10 ballplayers to be there," said Fred Hill, "but the entire football team showed up, including the owner and general manager."

They raised $10,000 for the Leukemia Society of America.

"Owner Leonard Tose was the last guy to leave," recalled Fred Hill. "He said, 'I want you to come back next year and make 10 times that amount. I'm going to give you Veterans Stadium to use if you need it, the football team - whatever you want.' "

Fred Hill and his neighbor, Stan Lane, formed a nonprofit organization called Eagles Fly for Leukemia.

At Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, they found Dr. Audrey Evans, whose long wish list included purchasing a house near the hospital that would provide temporary lodging for the families of young cancer patients.

After Eagles Fly for Leukemia raised $125,000 the next year, Eagles General Manager Jim Murray arranged with local McDonald's franchise owners to have the team's quarterback, Roman Gabriel, promote its St. Patrick's Day Shamrock Shake in exchange for a share of the profits being donated to the purchase of a house for patients' families.

The McDonald's owners then offered to donate all the profits on the condition that the house be named the Ronald McDonald House.

By the time the first Ronald McDonald House opened, in Philadelphia in 1974, the Hills had moved to California.

Today, there are 302 Ronald McDonald Houses serving families in 30 countries and regions.

"I didn't enjoy being sick," Kim Hill told reporters in 1982. "But if I wasn't sick, all of this might not have happened."

Kim Hill, who was born Aug. 11, 1966, in Orange, had a typically active childhood after overcoming leukemia.

After the family moved to San Juan Capistrano, Calif., in 1977, she rode horses with her two sisters. And she sang in the choir and ran cross-country at Capistrano Valley High School.

After graduating in 1984, she studied cosmetology. When her father, who sold medical supplies, opened a McDonald's in nearby Mission Viejo in 1987, she went to work there.

That same year, Kim's son, Andrew, was born.

In 1991, a CT scan revealed she had two tumors between her brain and her skull. She underwent five operations over the next 11 years.

In addition to her parents and son, Ms. Hill is survived by two sisters.

- Los Angeles Times

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