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In Memoriam: Robert Hill

UD professor emeritus of physics and astronomy

Robert Nyden Hill, emeritus professor in the University of Delaware Department of Physics and Astronomy, died on May 11, 2023, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was 88.

Dr. Hill received his doctorate from Yale University in 1962 and completed postdoctoral fellowships at Princeton and Yale. Afterward, he joined the UD faculty as a professor of theoretical physics in 1964. He then served on the UD faculty as a professor of theoretical physics for 34 years until his retirement.

According to colleagues, Dr. Hill was known at UD for his soft-spoken nature. He had a passion for mathematical physics, exact computation and atomic physics, often lending books on the subjects and spending time to discuss them with others.

“He was a true gentleman, a wonderful teacher,” said Stuart Pittel, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy and former director of the Bartol Institute.

Dr. Hill also will be remembered on campus for his confidence on the court. He regularly played pick-up basketball at the Little Bob over his lunch hour alongside other faculty and graduate students.

Unidel Professor of Physics and Astronomy Bill Matthaeus recalled many friendly interactions while shooting hoops in the 1980s and 1990s. Dr. Hill had strategies for winning basketball games against teams with much younger and more athletic players.

“Bob's basketball game was on the slow side, and very methodical and effective. His famous hook shot was deadly accurate as was his set shot, the latter taken only when open,” said Matthaeus. “He was a pass-first team player and could be remarkably effective when on a team that resonated with his approach. Bob was the first person to tell me that to play into more senior years, it would be important to regularly stretch and lift weights to strengthen key muscle groups. He was right.”

According to Dr. Hill’s obituary, published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, he continued to play regularly until age 72.

David Seckel, professor of physics and astronomy, remembered those Little Bob days, too.

“I didn't do much science with Bob, but he had sharp elbows and a soft set-shot,” said Seckel. “We lived in the same neighborhood, Fairfield Crest, and he had a great train setup in his basement.”

A model train enthusiast, Dr. Hill was particularly fond of Lionel trains. It was a lifelong hobby he picked up from his father at a young age. Seckel wasn’t the only colleague to witness Dr. Hill’s ever-expanding collection, which is now housed at the Twin City Model Railroad Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he was a longtime volunteer.

“I felt privileged that before he moved from Delaware, Bob brought me to his home in Fairfield Crest to see his magnificent model train setup,” said Matthaeus. “Bob was a true scholar and gentleman. I always thought of him as a friend and a model of a true University professor.”

Dr. Hill is survived by his wife JoAnne, to whom he was married 61 years, daughter Lauren Hill (Bruce), a brother, John (Laani) and extended family. He was predeceased by his parents, Robert Kermit Hill and Adelaide Hansen, and an aunt, Valborg (Baboo) Nyden.


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