For more than four decades, Tom Hill woke up at 5 a.m. and commuted into D.C. to his job in the federal government. Now retired, the 71-year-old from Gaithersburg still hits the road every single day of the week, donating his time, talents and good heart as a volunteer.
Hill serves as a driver, a dispatcher and, recently, a board member for Meals on Wheels. “It’s very rewarding to visit my clients and take them a hot and cold meal,” says Hill. He enjoys spending time talking to them and has been known to go the extra mile, purchasing food with his own money or even clearing the weeds outside somebody’s home if a client needs the help.
Hill also spends part of every day at the St. Martin of Tours Food Pantry. “When the pandemic hit, the food pantry went from around 170 clients every Monday to 270
clients,” Hill says. So he stepped up to become coordinator for the Monday
distribution, working from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then he’s at the food pantry Tuesday through Sunday to receive donations from local businesses, churches and other individuals.
“We continue to serve the needs of the greater Gaithersburg community. We were able to meet the increased demand by reaching out to new companies for support,” says Hill.
Hill is no stranger to working for the good of the community. Even while he worked for the federal government, Hill donated his evenings and weekends to serve on various councils and boards at St. Martin of Tours Church, St. Elizabeth’s Church and several local chapters of the Jaycees, among other organizations.
When his three children were young, Hill also served as PTA president at two different elementary schools, as the PTA coordinator for the Quince Orchard cluster and as the capital improvement chairman for the Montgomery County Council of PTAs. As meetings often took place during the school day, he’d take leave from work in order to fulfill his duties.
“I volunteered for the schools and the civic and church groups because of my sense of civic pride and the need to give back to others for what I had,” he says.
Hill’s entire professional career revolved around public service. After working for the FBI from 1974 to 1978 and the National Center for Education Statistics from 1978 to 1983, he spent 35 years at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), first as a senior public affairs specialist and then chief of staff for ATF’s science and technology division. He retired in 2018.
“Tom was always one step ahead. His innovative ideas to make processes better were matched only by his enthusiasm in producing results,” says Karen Leftridge, who worked closely with Hill in the Office of Congressional and Public Affairs. “But what most impressed me about Tom was that he never compromised his integrity, and he never failed to credit others. No one remained invisible under his watch. He cared.”
Hill explains that he spent his entire career in government because he believed he could make a difference. “I was a civil servant helping in my own way to protect America and practice justice for all,” he says.
Not that there weren’t challenges along the way. Over 43 years, Hill served under many presidents—and didn’t always agree with their policies—but “service to my country was always my guiding light,” he says.
Despite his busy volunteering schedule, Hill finds time to walk 20,000 steps a day through his Quince Orchard neighborhood, where he’s lived for 33 years with his wife, Lynn. As he walks, Hill picks up the trash, removing water bottles, beer cans, tissues and paper thrown into the streets.
“When people see me, they thank me for picking up the neighborhood, so I must be a good neighbor,” he chuckles in a self-deprecating way. “Well, I am from Pennsylvania like Mister Rogers.”
A version of this story appears in the August-September 2020 issue of Montgomery Magazine.