Hilton was born on August 18th, 1929, in Nat, Texas, to Lois and James Floyd “Pat” Hilliard. Hilton was soon joined by his brother, Milford “Randolph” Hilliard. Struggling to find work during the Great Depression, the Hilliard family was “dirt poor” and traveled widely around East and North Texas, often working as share croppers. They settled in Cedar Bayou, Texas but their barn burned down and they were forced to load up their single cow and move to Dallas where Pat had family. Eventually, Pat found steady work as a carpenter and later in the defense plants around Dallas. The family soon moved into the Oak Cliff neighborhood south of the Trinity River.
Always the entrepreneur, Hilton learned the value of hard work maintaining a paper route all through junior and high school. Left-handed Hilton excelled at sports, playing both baseball and basketball—later earning a scholarship to Arlington Junior College. During college summers, Hilton built and operated a popular snow cone stand on Clarendon Avenue there in Oak Cliff. With the money he earned from selling snow cones, Hilton soon enrolled in The University of Texas in Austin, Texas, majoring in Business. It was there he met the love of his life, Mary Claudene Henson, a biology student from SE Texas. They married in the chapel at University Baptist Church in Austin on May 28, 1952.
After graduation, Hilton and Mary started their life together in the Braeburn Terrace neighborhood of Houston, Texas. They were soon blessed with their first child, Kathleen, followed the next year by brother Russell. Mark came a few years later, followed quickly by Rebecca and Andrew. They later moved to Westbury. After the success of his insurance agencies, Hilton and Mary built their dream home in Bonham Acres, near Sharpstown.
Lifelong Baptists, they were members of South Main Baptist Church, but later joined the new Westbury Baptist Mission, with the Hilliard children making up most of the nursery department. Throughout his life, Hilton served in various leadership positions in the churches he attended as Trustee, Deacon and Sunday school teacher. Since the late 80’s, he and Mary were members of Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston.
After an early stint as a salesman at the James Bute Paint Company, Hilton joined Texas Employers Insurance as an agent. There he learned the skills that would support his family the rest of his life. He left Texas Employers and during his non-competition period, went to work for Norwood Homes as a construction superintendent, learning the homebuilding business.
In 1963, Hilton and one of his former Texas Employers associates formed an independent insurance agency, Petersson-Hilliard and Associates. The agency was remarkably successful, soon becoming one of the largest independent agencies in Texas. In 1976, Hilton and Mary started Hilton Hilliard Insurance Designs. Using his knowledge and contacts in the homebuilding business, Hilton soon became the acknowledged home builder insurance expert in Texas. His clients included U.S. Home, General Homes, Gemcraft Homes, David Weekley Homes, Monarch Homes, Norwood Homes and Newmark Homes.
By the early 80s, Hilton Hilliard Insurance Designs was one of the largest independent agencies in the country, employing more than 80 associates, helping start and nurture the careers of many insurance professionals. He continued to give back to his industry, serving in multiple positions of leadership in Professional Insurance Agents Association. Hilton was one of the first to earn the Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) professional designation and taught many classes to those hoping to also earn the designation. He was a great teacher and mentor and always ready to help those who needed his expertise.
In 1986, Hilton sold his insurance agency and began to focus more on safety education and compliance. Hilton and Mary formed Hilton Hilliard and Associates, LLC, and soon began offering in-person training and materials to home builders, focusing primarily on OSHA compliance.
Frustrated by the lack of a simple guardrail system that would meet OSHA regulations, Hilton invented the Safety Boot® Guardrail System. These bright yellow guardrail support bases became common on commercial and residential construction sites across the country and are still widely considered to be the standard for a simple and effective tool for fall protection. Under Mary’s (and later son Andrew’s) leadership, Safety Boots by Safety Maker (and related guardrail system components) are sold and used across the country and are manufactured in several foreign countries.
In retirement, Hilton wrote a book about his life entitled “My Life Story as I Remember,” which is full of stories about growing up in East Texas, then moving to Dallas, serving with the Texas Air National Guard during WWII, and eventually finishing his college years. He recounted all sorts of adventures, friends, relatives and other experiences, both serious and humorous. (For a copy of Hilton’s book, please contact Andrew H. Hilliard at [email protected].) In more recent years, he loved watching sports on TV, especially University of Texas football and women’s collegiate softball.
Hilton passed away on January 26, 2021, around 7:30 p.m. from health conditions exacerbated by COVID-19. He was 91 years old. The family would like to share their deepest appreciation to his caregivers for their loving care provided to him for the last few years of his life.
He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Mary; brother M.R. Hilliard and wife, Ruth, of Maypearl, Texas; daughter Kathy Bevers and her husband, Gary; son Dr. Russell Hilliard, his wife, Mona, and their son, Kent Hilton; son Mark Hilliard, his wife, Cyndi, and their daughters Mary Katie Canava, her husband, Jonithon, and son, Mark Tyler, and Addie Grace Hilliard. Daughter Rebecca Hilliard of Bentonville, Arkansas, her son, Nathan Hansen, his wife, Holly, and their daughter, Harper Kay, of Richmond, Virginia, daughter Natalie Barker and her daughter, Mary Lynn, of Centerton, Arkansas; son Andrew Hilliard, his wife, Sandra, of Magnolia, Texas, and their son, Evan James, of Hollywood, California; numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and other family members and thousands of friends and associates.
Due to the current COVID crisis, the memorial service will be postponed until a later, safer date. Please keep Mary and the family in your prayers as they learn to adjust to life without the big guy.