Written by Laura Roe Stevens
Cultured, positive, educated, devoted and kind are words to describe Aida B. Hillway, who passed in January 2021 at age 101. Some might say Aida was a trailblazer, as she earned a psychology degree from Harvard University—at a time when few women were admitted. The Italian American met her lifelong love Charles (Chuck) Hillway when both were students at the University of Oregon.
They married in 1943 before Chuck left to serve in England during WWII, “to help the Allies identify Nazi airplanes,” explains Richard Hillway, age 80, who is Aida’s nephew. Richard is also a tennis historian and the author of The Birth of Lawn Tennis.
Richard recounts a favorite old family lore with a grin: “Chuck’s mom pulled him aside and said, ‘Aida is very popular and might not be single when you come back,’ so Chuck proposed before leaving to serve in WWII.”
Upon his return, the two purchased land in Rolling Hills and built their dream home in 1951, where they lived their entire lives. Chuck was a businessman who retired early, according to Richard. Aida was the head of UCLA’s Counseling Center, where she provided emotional support to athletes, students, faculty and staff. It was a perfect career choice.
“She was a delightful, insightful person. You could talk with her about anything,” says Richard. “She helped so many students and faculty. She also loved to support musicians.”
When Richard’s father, Dr. Tyus Hillway, founder of the Herman Melville Society, died of esophageal cancer in 1988, he became closer to his aunt and uncle. And he loved his lengthy conversations with Aida, which continued until her final days.
“I spoke with her every day, and we’d talk for hours! All our interests were the same. She loved it when I’d play her favorite opera over the phone. Aida and Chuck became my second parents. I loved them dearly,” says Richard.
Leaving a Legacy Through a Residual Beneficiary Gift
Torrance Memorial Medical Center first benefited from Aida’s generosity in October 2016 when she donated $200,000 to name a patient room in memory of her husband. In 2019, Aida updated her estate plan to designate Torrance Memorial as a 70% residual beneficiary. (After specific gifts were made, 70% of the remainder of Aida’s trust would be given to Torrance Memorial.)
Torrance Memorial recently learned that $3.86 million from Aida’s estate was allocated to the hospital! This generous gift will help with a needed expansion of the Torrance Memorial emergency department (ED), says Sandy VandenBerge, director of planned giving for Torrance Memorial Foundation.
“Her gift is earmarked for our $50 million ED expansion project. We need more space to accommodate the community in a timely manner,” Sandy explains. “Last year we saw 101,000 patients in our current space that hasn’t expanded in 12 years. We anticipate seeing 130,000 patients (yearly) within 10 years.”
A Generous Heart
Aida’s mother was born in a small Italian Alpine village near the Austrian border. She moved to America as a teen and spoke only in Italian to Aida, who was grateful for her life in California, says Richard, who adds she also loved her Italian heritage.
“She loved talking about Galileo and listening to opera singers like Enrico Caruso. She and Chuck were members of the Los Angeles Opera. They loved Italian food and traveled to Italy. They both loved Tony Bennett, who was also Italian and a lover of art,” says Richard with a laugh.
Her other loves? Walking in Rolling Hills, her dogs Gucci and Coco, and talking with dear friends over wonderful meals. “She loved good food, laughter, meaningful conversations, travel, art, music. The word ‘wonderful’ just isn’t enough to convey how lovely she was.”
Making others feel better was important to Aida, says Richard, who says she would love knowing their estate will help many in the community do just that.