Alexander “Sandy” Hill made Macalester College a more connected, convivial and homier place during more than four decades of working at the St. Paul campus.
In a string of administrative roles, Hill invariably went beyond his job description. An entertainer extraordinaire and a gourmet cook, he brought students, faculty, staff and alumni together in memorable soirees in his home, sparking lifelong friendships and jump-starting careers. An accomplished interior designer, he outfitted buildings on campus with furnishings and decorations that invoked a feeling of home. He also met his two wives on campus and found solace there when he lost both to cancer.
Hill died Sept. 17 of complications from multiple system atrophy. He was 83.
“If there was someone you would refer to as ‘Mr. Macalester,’ it was Sandy,” said Peter Fenn, a Macalester graduate, trustee emeritus and longtime friend of Hill’s. “He brought people into quite an orbit.”
Hill grew up in Maple Plain, west of the Twin Cities. He graduated from Macalester in 1957 with a major in journalism and went on to work as merchandising manager at the Minneapolis Star. In 1964, he returned to Macalester. By the time he retired from the college 42 years later, he had served under eight campus presidents — as an alumni director, vice president for development, assistant to the president and secretary to the Board of Trustees.
As a graduate student in the 1960s, Nancy Slaughter didn’t immediately realize how unusual the gatherings were that Hill and his first wife, Mary McLaughlin Hill, hosted in their house near what was then Lake Calhoun. They brought together singles and married couples, people of all ages and ethnicities.
“He was able to create a community at Macalester we hadn’t had before,” said Martin Carlson, who attended gatherings in Hill’s Loring Park condo in the early 1990s. “By knitting people together the way he did, he created a sense of investment and involvement in the college.”
Hill had a knack for making students — including many international students — feel heard, debating the news of the day and inquiring about books they were reading. He used his deep ties with alumni to help them forge a path after graduation. When Carlson wondered if law school might be for him, Hill connected him with several graduates with successful legal careers.
“For no small number of Macalester graduates, Sandy Hill represented the college at its very best,” said Brian Rosenberg, Macalester president.
Hill also cajoled alumni into staying connected to Macalester, from joining the leadership of its alumni group to serving on the Board of Trustees.
“He remembered everybody, their families and what they were doing with their lives,” Fenn said.
Hill was also active with the St. Paul Rotary and on the board of the Children’s Home Society.
Friends say the secret of his longevity at Macalester was the delight he took in getting to know its students. Carlson remembers Hill tagging along with soon-to-be graduates to the now-defunct Rogue club in Minneapolis, where he and Mary Smail, a fellow longtime Macalester staffer he would marry, swing-danced joyfully to 1990s dance hits.
That Macalester community rallied around him as he grappled with his own illness.
“His standard comment was, ‘I’m managing,’ ” said Slaughter. “He taught us how to live and then he taught us how to die gracefully.”
Hill is survived by his son, Peter, a Macalester graduate; his stepson, David Smail, and stepdaughter, Katherine Smail; two grandchildren and his brother, Curtis Hill.
Services will be held at 3 p.m. Oct. 21 in the ballroom bearing Hill’s name on the Macalester campus.