Elisabeth Hilton (1939 – 2020) or Liz as she was affectionately known, had an extraordinary reach and impact on the lives of many as a committed UOW staff member, passionate advocate, honorary Fellow, dedicated volunteer and donor.
Her passion and commitment to education, advocacy and volunteering was formed early in her life. Born in Leeds, West Yorkshire she was a talented student who participated in all sports and developed her fondness for cricket that endured for her lifetime. As a young woman she volunteered on an archaeological dig at Wharram Percy Medieval Village. Volunteering would become a hallmark of Liz’s significant contribution, particularly to the University in later years.
Moving to Australia in 1963, Liz taught sports education at Ascham School and her deep commitment to supporting students to achieve excellence began. Liz joined the Wollongong University College in 1973 as a Lab Assistant to support the development of academic teaching skills. She served on the University Council representing General Staff from 1978 to 1985. In her words she described this early UOW period as a time when ‘she put in big hours and lapped up the academic atmosphere’.
In 1980 Liz took on one of her most notable roles at UOW, as the Head of International House Hall and the new Kooloobong residential complex. She held this role for more than seven years. It was during this time that her care, support and commitment to international and domestic students shone, with many students from this time remaining part of her life.
It was in 1987 that Liz took on another role she would describe as ‘perfect’. This would profoundly shape and pioneer the University’s distinctive approach to engaging with prospective domestic students. Liz developed and led an entirely new strategy which gave UOW a competitive advantage over other universities. She firmly believed in the power of young people in advocating for the University as a destination of first choice. She hired a team of outstanding student representatives, tipping the University recruitment process on its head. In the process she wowed potential students, parents and careers advisors across New South Wales. In the process she not only lifted the University’s first preferences, but also supported a generation of talented young people with experience on their resumes and created a legacy in the approach of how UOW truly engaged with its future students. She went on to establish the first call centre to provide advice to prospective students and with a talented team created CourseFinder on the UOW website. Liz was known for her forthright and practical advice for students, her advocacy for student agency and in her words ‘helping students to strive for excellence rather than mediocrity’. Forty years on, Liz has had an enduring impact on the lives of UOW alumni.
In 2000, after serving under three Vice-Chancellors, Liz retired from her official roles at the University. She was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Special Award for Outstanding and Exceptional Achievement. In 2004, she was conferred a University Fellowship for her tireless advocacy and contribution to the University.
To think that Liz would cease to contribute to her institution would be a mistake. Instead, Liz became involved in a broad range of UOW activities as a volunteer. She became a dedicated patient in the newly formed Graduate School of Medicine and enjoyed portraying whatever various illness she has been provided with as part of the process. Giving of herself to benefit education continued, with Liz regularly processing in graduation over many years and being involved in various university events and activities. Most recently, she enjoyed volunteering as part of a special group of people to support the Goodwill Hunting initiative, providing very practical support for students with free household items collected from many of UOW’s communities.
People from all walks of university life have been the beneficiary of Liz Hilton’s passion, knowledge, good humour and generosity. Many, no doubt, will have a wily tale or two to tell. She was one of a kind. She lived and demonstrated the values and purpose of the University of Wollongong throughout her life.