Park Cities Person of the Year: ‘Science Is the Answer’

History-making Lyda Hill touts philosophy of giving

One of Lyda Hill’s guiding philosophies in her philanthropic efforts is “science is the answer.”

Giving runs in her family, too.

“Because my mother, beloved philanthropist Margaret Hunt Hill, insisted on taking me with her when she volunteered, I actually recall not being old enough to understand that voluntarism was, in fact, voluntary,” the philanthropist, entrepreneur, and Hockaday School alumnae said.

She wrote those comments when signing the Giving Pledge, a movement where philanthropists leave most of their wealth to charity.

“Because I have a fervent belief that science is the answer to many of life’s ‘impossibilities,’ I made the decision long ago to donate the entirety of my estate to philanthropy and scientific research,” Hill said.

In recent years, Lyda Hill and her organization awarded a $50 million grant to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Moon Shots Program, which aims to combat and eliminate cancer.

“Lyda’s extraordinary generosity through the years has impacted tens of thousands of people with cancer or at risk for developing cancer,” said MD Anderson Cancer Center President Peter Pisters. “She personalized the determination to end cancer through the largest single gift, $50 million, to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Moon Shots Program, which has enabled numerous clinical advances benefitting patients with cancer as well as public health achievements focused on cancer prevention efforts in targeted populations and communities.”

Pisters said Hill’s “passion for advancing cancer prevention” helped MD Anderson establish the first-ever cancer prevention and control program dissemination hub within a National Cancer Institute-accredited cancer center.

“This Moon Shots component has enabled multiple achievements, from increasing provider capacity for cervical cancer screening and treatment for underserved women, to advancing youth education, adult cessation and other strategies aimed at curbing tobacco use,” Pisters said. “Recognized as a Life Member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors — with more than 40 years of service to this advisory board — Lyda is as generous with her time and talent as she is with her philanthropy.”

Other gifts include a $25 million grant to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to establish the Lyda Hill Department of Bioinformatics; a $20 million grant to Hockaday to fund a science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) program and other initiatives.

PHOTO: Grant Miller Photography

Her commitment to supporting advancements in science to improve the lives of Texans and beyond is why People Newspapers selected Hill as the Park Cities Person of the Year.

It’s also why Hill recently received the ​​Oak Cliff Lions Club’s Bill Melton Humanitarian Award and will receive the History Making Texan Award from the Texas State History Museum Foundation in March.

“Beyond her philanthropy, we are the beneficiaries of Lyda Hill’s extraordinary service as a Life Trustee at Hockaday,” Hockaday Eugene McDermott head of school Karen Warren Coleman said. “She was named a Hockaday Distinguished Alumna in 1986 and is regularly engaged with the life of the school.”

Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) founding CEO Tom Luce said Hill also matched the initial gift from the Meadows Foundation to launch the nonprofit, which works to improve the treatment of mental illness, around 2014.

“I’ve always found Lyda to not only be very, very generous but willing to take what I call calculated risks,” said Luce, who is now the founder and chairman of Texas 2036.

MMHPI was named the recipient of the $10 million Lone Star Prize in June of 2021. The Lone Star Prize, sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and managed by Lever for Change, is a competition launched in 2020 to improve the lives of Texans and their communities. It will enable MMHPI to implement the Lone Star Depression Challenge to enhance the quality of life and mental health care for Texas communities.

“As we are all aware, mental health is one of our most challenging issues – both before and reemphasized during this pandemic,” Hill said.

Hill’s influence goes far beyond the dollars given, MMHPI CEO Andy Keller said. “When you work for or with a philanthropist like Lyda, it’s not just the infusion of resources; it’s also – she’s basically lending her reputation and track record of backing successful innovations.”

As for what’s next for Hill heading into 2022, she said she hopes to work to make greenspaces more accessible to all in Dallas, is looking forward to seeing what’s ahead for the biotech hub and Water Cooler at Pegasus Park, and the results of the Lone Star Prize.

“Dallas is my home and I try to look many years ahead to ensure that we are a CAN DO city. I have always loved spending time in the great outdoors so we’re helping increase the number of Dallas citizens who are within a 10-minute walk to a park,” Hill said.

Hill and J. Small Investments partnered in hopes of turning Pegasus Park into a
science and community hub. PHOTO: Grant Miller Photography

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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