In Memoriam

Charles Hill, statesman and co-founder of Yale’s Brady-Johnson Program

Charles Hill
Charles Hill

Charles Hill, a career diplomat, teacher, and scholar, died in New Haven, Connecticut on March 27, 2021. As a member of the U.S. Foreign Service he represented his nation across three continents and served as a senior advisor to leading figures in modern diplomacy. As a teacher of politics and the history of ideas, he revived the study of statecraft at Yale. 

Hill was born in 1936 in Bridgeton, New Jersey, to Morton and Alvenia Hill. After graduating from Brown University, he earned a law degree and a master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. His foreign service career began in 1963 in Zurich, followed by postings in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Vietnam. In the 1970s, he served as a policy advisor at the State Department on a range of matters, from U.S.-China relations to the negotiation of the Panama Canal treaties. He joined the State Department’s policy planning staff in 1974 and was a speech writer and advisor for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. 

In 1978, Hill was named deputy director of the Israel desk, and a year later he became political counselor for the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. He was named director for Israel and Arab-Israeli affairs in 1981, and served as deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East in 1982. From 1985 to 1989, he served as executive aide to Secretary of State George Shultz. From 1992 to 1996 he served as advisor to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary General of the United Nations.

Hill was deeply committed to higher education and taught at Harvard and Cornell during his diplomatic career. After retiring from public service, he devoted nearly three decades to teaching at Yale, where he was Diplomat-in-Residence in International Security Studies and Brady-Johnson Distinguished Fellow in Grand Strategy. He became a fixture in Yale’s Program in Directed Studies, an interdisciplinary study of classic texts of Western Civilization, and co-founded — with historians Paul Kennedy and John Lewis Gaddis — the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, which introduces students to the history and practice of statecraft. He encouraged his students to read closely and to ask wide-ranging fundamental questions about politics, ethics, and culture. Students deeply admired Professor Hill for his ability to draw connections between current affairs and history. He was a tireless and thoughtful mentor to multiple generations of grateful Yalies.

Hill was the author of three books: “Grand Strategies: Literature, Statecraft, and World Order” (2010), “Trial of a Thousand Years: World Order and Islamism” (2011) and “The Weaver's Lost Art” (2014). He won numerous awards, including the Superior Honor Award from the Department of State in 1973 and 1981; the Presidential Distinguished Service Award in 1987 and 1989; and the Secretary of State’s Medal in 1989. He was a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and was granted an honorary doctor of laws degree by Rowan University.

Hill is survived by his wife, Norma Thompson of New Haven, Connecticut; his daughter Catharine L. Smith of Washington D.C.; and his grandchildren Christopher N. and Laura C. Van Lieu. He was predeceased by his daughter, Emily C. Hill Van Lieu.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be directed to the Charles Hill Fund for Liberal Education at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, 70 Audubon Street, New Haven, CT 06510.  Online gifts can be made here.

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