By Rich Pollack
Just six days before he was set to begin his second term in office, Highland Beach Mayor Doug Hillman died March 15 following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 77.
Mr. Hillman’s death, which came less than two months after his wife of 54 years died, was a shock to town leaders and residents, with some just learning about his illness less than a month ago.
Elected mayor three years ago after serving on the town’s Financial Advisory Board and having run unopposed this election cycle, Mr. Hillman was well respected for his leadership style and his ability to use a touch of levity to lighten serious discussions while working to build consensus.
Town Manager Marshall Labadie, who has worked with many elected officials over the course of his career, praised the late mayor as “one of the best.”
“It really doesn’t get much better than Doug,” he said. “His leadership style and his concern for the community set him apart from most local leaders I have worked with. He became a mentor and a friend.”
Vice Mayor Natasha Moore said one of Mr. Hillman’s strengths was his willingness to listen to others.
“All of his decisions centered around what he thought would be best for the town,” she said.
In addition to his leadership in Highland Beach, Mr. Hillman also served as president of his condo association at Dalton Place, as well as president of the umbrella organization at Boca Highland Beach Club and Marina.
“As president of Dalton Place and Boca Highlands, Doug was considered a visionary and smart and business-savvy,” said friend and neighbor Ron Reame, who is vice president of Dalton Place and on the board of governors of Boca Highland. “He was the voice of reason.”
Reame said that it was Mr. Hillman who led efforts to revitalize their building, bringing it up to “five-star resort” quality.
“Doug was a man of integrity, was kind, helpful, patient, fair and complimentary to all who worked with him,” Reame said. “He was influential and inspiring to our community.”
With Mr. Hillman’s death, Moore will automatically fill in as mayor for no more than 30 days. Within that time, the Town Commission will have an opportunity to appoint a mayor who will serve until March 2024, when an election will be held to fill the remaining two years of Mr. Hillman’s term.
Moore, who has served as vice mayor for two years, said that Mr. Hillman was instrumental in helping her grow in the position.
“Not only was he a colleague, he was also a mentor,” she said. “He put all of us in the right position to make good decisions.”
Prior to coming to Highland Beach, Mr. Hillman served as an executive for some of the best-known men's, women's and children's apparel, accessory and footwear brands, including Levi's, Dockers, Burlington Hosiery, Keds, Pro-Keds and Sperry Topsiders, as well as London Fog, where he became president.
Mr. Hillman also served as a business adviser to the governor of Maryland and as a consultant to the Baltimore Police Department. In addition, he was a professor at both Johns Hopkins University and American University, where he taught advanced marketing courses at the graduate level.
Mayor Hillman is survived by son Michael, daughter-in-law Michelle, granddaughter Molli and grandson Miles.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. March 19 at Dalton Place in Boca Highland Beach Club and Marina.