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John Quitman Hill, Wofford’s fourth Rhodes Scholar

Written By: Phillip Stone - Jan• 28•13

Wofford’s fourth Rhodes Scholar is also the only one to date that has returned as a member of the faculty.  Coming over thirty years after the last Wofford student or alumnus to be elected, Professor John Quitman Hill, took an unusual path to his scholarship.  A childhood illness prevented him from attending school until he was eleven years old.  Many children would never catch up after such a late start, but not only did John Hill graduate from high school seven years later, he went on to earn some of the highest academic honors in the world.

Professor John Quitman Hill

After he graduated from Gaffney High School, he took a job in a textile mill in Lyman, where he met and married his wife.  He became part of a substantial number of students who worked in textile mills while attending Textile Industrial Institute, now Spartanburg Methodist College.

During World War II, he enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps.  In 1945, following  the end of World War II, he enrolled at Wofford as a sophomore and graduated at the end of the 1947 summer term.  The newly minted college graduate was 28 years old.  While at Wofford, he worked at night in the Pacific Mill in Lyman as a card grinder.  He completed his Wofford courses with all A’s and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.  A year later, he received his Rhodes Scholarship, and from 1948 to 1951, he studied at Oxford.  He earned his B. A. in the Honours School of Mathematics, working with such scholars as J. S. deWet,, E. C. Thompson, J. H. C. Whitehead, and E. C. Titchmarsh.  His primary fields of study were pure and applied mathematics and Riemanian geometry.

Returning with his family to South Carolina, he taught high school in Duncan (seriously!) before going on to teach at the University of Tennessee.  He returned to Spartanburg, where he taught briefly at Converse before joining the Wofford faculty in 1953.  In 1955, he was awarded the Oxford Master of Arts degree, entitling him to sit and vote as a member of Oxford’s Convocation.

A devoted teacher, Hill became one of the college’s first John M. Reeves professors in 1958 at the same time he was named chairman of the mathematics department.  He received the college’s inaugural distinguished teaching award in 1961. Students in the yearbook noted that he always had time for students, and claimed that “everything looks easy when he explains it.”  No small compliment for a mathematician.

Professor Hill died after a long illness in 1972 at the young age of 53.  Known for his interdisciplinary interests, Professor Hill conceived of an interdisciplinary seminar for faculty to examine the first principles of the various disciplines taught at Wofford.  That interest was reflected in the creation of the John Q. Hill memorial lecture series at the college.  The math department’s award for its most outstanding senior is also named in his honor.

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