When I walked into Carolyn Hill’s office in March of 1995, little did I know that my life and the cultural life of our city was about to change.
We hit it off immediately. Both of us were native Oklahomans who’d recently moved back. We recognized in each other a passion for the arts and a desire to make our city better. I clearly remember what a strong impression she left on me. I knew I was in the presence of someone extraordinary: She was accomplished and ambitious; she looked and sounded like a leader. I had discovered my mentor.
That was saying something for a wet-behind-the-ears potential curator. A month later, you could say that I was her first draft pick. I’d like to think I was her Kevin Durant over the 13 years I worked for her.
I was soon shocked to discover that this woman was pushing a broom, painting gallery walls, handling art and holding the door open for visitors. Carolyn was simply the hardest working, most committed person I’d ever met. She led by example; nothing was beneath her. It made all of us want to follow her.
You could see the love she had for the arts, the museum, for education, for people. We loved her for it. Carolyn was a teacher; she was our conductor. She was the sun in our solar system, a true visionary with a gleam in her eye. She could cuss with the best of them. We drank our share of Merlot at the end of a typical 12-hour day with her trademark tools close by: a yellow legal pad, mechanical pencil and pack of Parliaments. Those were my master classes; I treasure those memories. She was incredibly tough and courageous, even in our darkest times.
Carolyn paved the way for doing the impossible, driven by her relentless will to succeed. In 1999, Carolyn was going on an unprecedented request for our capital campaign that built the current Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Our staff sent her off with various good luck charms. One of her favorites was this inspirational quote from W.H. Murray’s “The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.” It reads:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it / Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
Carolyn embodied all those qualities and, most importantly, she gave so much more than she took. She planted seeds that will bear fruit for generations to come. She touched thousands of lives through her love and devotion to the transformative power of art.
Thank you for everything you have done, Carolyn. You’re my hero, no doubt for countless others as well.
Hearn is the film curator at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Funeral services for Hill are at 10 a.m. today at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, 127 N.W. Seventh.