When Georgia Southern University graduate student Kim Liebl started working on her Masters project in organizing the archival papers of Jack Hill, she knew very little about the late state senator. She said she discovered quickly why he was widely beloved and respected.
“His dedication to his district and his constituents stood out,” she said. “You don’t see that anymore. He’s definitely the last of his kind.”
Liebl gave a presentation – “Senator Jack Hill: 30 years of life in Georgia Politics” – Monday of her research about Hill’s life at the March meeting of the Bulloch County Historical Society to about 100 people in the social hall of Pittman Park United Methodist Church.
A native of Guyton, Liebl received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Georgia Southern and will earn a Masters degree in history, with a concentration in public history, in May.
She began an internship in the Special Collections Department of Georgia Southern’s Henderson Library in July 2022, hoping to gain archival experience. Liebl said she was given the project of the “Jack S. Hill Papers,” which consisted of 36 boxes and three oversized folders.
In addition to going through all the documents, Liebl said she conducted numerous interviews and taped oral histories of family, friends and legislative colleagues.
Through working with the collection, Liebl said she would create two exhibits – a temporary exhibit, which will open in the Henderson Library at Georgia Southern on April 10, and a permanent exhibit that will be part of the Jack and Ruth Ann Hill Convocation Center. The Convocation Center broke ground in May 2022 and, when complete, will serve as the signature building on Georgia Southern’s south campus in Statesboro. It will be the largest event venue space between Savannah and Macon.
Also, she will create a website that will include recorded interviews and other materials not part of the Convocation Center exhibit.
Liebl’s presentation Monday at the Historical Society meeting included an in-depth biography of Hill’s life. Born in Reidsville in 1944, where he lived all his life, Hill operated a grocery store in the Tattnall County town for decades. He was a graduate of Reidsville High School and earned a degree in 1966 from what was then Georgia Southern College.
Hill was first elected to the Georgia State Senate as a Democrat in 1990, switched parties to become a Republican in 2002 and was easily re-elected to his District 4 seat through the 2018 election. He was the longest serving member in the Senate and he had qualified to run for his 16th term immediately prior to his death in April 2020.
In addition to Bulloch County, Hill’s Senate District 4 included Evans, Candler, Effingham and parts of Tattnall and Emanuel counties.
Hill served as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the Senate. He also served as the vice chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, as a member on the Natural Resources and the Environment and Regulated Industries and Utilities, as well as an ex-officio member of the Finance Committee.
He served in the Georgia Air National Guard for more than 33 years, both as a unit commander and state inspector general.
After Liebl’s presentation, people in the audience, which included Hill’s sister Jill Flynn, son Lance Hill and a table of friends he grew up with in Tattnall County, shared their memories of Hill.
Ronnie McCall, who attended school with Hill from Kindergarten through 12th grade, said: “When he was 12 years old, that ideal of service, he already had that. He always wanted to do this. His father was a senator and a representative. The fact is, he didn’t want to go any higher (in politics). He wanted to be of service to his home and his constituents.”
They all remembered how Hill made an effort to show up at every event where he was invited and to as many events in his senate district, as possible.
“He always supported the schools in Portal and always came to our Turpentine Festival,” said Jerry Lanigan with the Portal Heritage Society. “He would call and say ‘Am I invited this year?’ Which, of course, he was.”
In her research, Liebl found tangible evidence of Hill’s commitment to being present at every event possible and his personal touch with his constituents.
“Through my research, in the boxes of his papers and speaking with his constituents, who would always go to him for help, he kept every single program and invitation to an event he was invited to,” she said. “There are hand-written copies of letters he sent to people wishing them a happy birthday or happy anniversary or a thank you note.”