Our bond with Janet McDonald Hill began 57 years ago when we arrived at Wellesley as members of the class of 1969. Janet quickly resolved to leave, as she had never been in an environment that was so white. She often joked about calling home hoping to reach her sympathetic father, who would let her return home. Instead, her mother answered and sternly insisted that she stay. Janet did, and was popular among her classmates for her distinctive Louisiana lilt; her bright, uplifting personality; and her disciplined spirit. Janet maintained a singular focus on her major in mathematics, but whenever we called her to support Ethos, she always showed up.
In 1971, Janet married Calvin Hill, her devoted life partner for over 50 years. Calvin was a Yale football star and NFL Rookie of the Year with the Dallas Cowboys. Their only child, Grant, was an outstanding basketball player at Duke University before entering the NBA. Janet was not the traditional wife and mother of celebrity sports stars. She liked to say she had spent more time waiting outside of smelly locker rooms than anyone else, but it was time well spent, because she knew all the ins and outs of sports. She supported organizations to help mothers and wives of athletes and served on the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. In addition, Grant’s wife, Tamia, is a Grammy-nominated singer, so Janet always knew more than the rest of us about sports and hip-hop.
Janet worked as a math teacher and a special assistant to the secretary of the Army during the Carter administration. She then co-founded and managed a consulting firm that advised executive clients on a wide range of strategy and diversity matters. Janet served on numerous corporate boards, including Wendy’s, Sprint, Progressive Insurance, Dean Foods, Houghton Mifflin, and the Carlyle Group, and she was inducted into the National Association of Corporate Directors Hall of Fame in 2019. She served on the Wellesley College Board of Trustees and was a vice president of the Wellesley College Alumnae Association. Janet was a generous supporter of the Washington Wellesley Club, hosting club events at high-profile venues, such as the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap, on whose boards she served. She was a long-time member of Duke University’s board of trustees, and she was posthumously awarded the 2022 University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service.
Janet’s friendship, wit, and counsel shone in our own frequent gatherings over the years. We hosted or attended each other’s bridal, baby, and grandmother showers. We met at her favorite restaurants to celebrate our three December birthdays and, more recently, we met on Zoom. We all came to the opening of a traveling exhibition Alvia curated for Grant’s collection of African American art. When we partied at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Janet provided “Hillary’s Wellesley Classmate” pins for us to wear. Janet’s generous contribution to the Ethos 50th anniversary gift kick-started our fund-raising efforts.
Janet was a remarkable woman, as evidenced by the outpouring of grief upon the news of her passing. She was the rock of her family and adored by her two granddaughters. She was esteemed by colleagues and the many young people she mentored. Her voice is now stilled, and our own 57-year circle has lost a vital link that can never be replaced.