WATERVILLE — It is hard to capture all that Ann Hill accomplished and meant to the city of Waterville, having been its first female mayor, a two-term city councilor and volunteer on many boards and committees during her many years here.

Ann “Nancy” Hill Morning Sentinel file photo

Beyond that, Hill, who preferred to be called “Nancy,” was a devoted mother and grandmother, loyal friend and champion for all things Colby College, loved art and cinema and never missed attending the annual Maine International Film Festival.

She also was a staunch Democrat and paved the way for women in politics, say those who knew her.

“Nancy Hill was a giant — a trailblazer for women getting involved in local government,” former City Manager Michael Roy said Thursday.  “She served on our City Council, was the first woman elected as mayor and also served as the president of the Maine Municipal Association. She gave many women the confidence to get involved.”

Hill died April 13 in Dedham, Massachusetts, of complications from dementia. She was 90. Friends, including Roy, remembered her this week for her hard work, dedication and love of Waterville.

“I served with her on the board of the Kennebec Federal Savings Bank for over 10 years and was always impressed by her ability to grasp things quickly and to know the important questions to ask,” Roy said. “She was a master at forging relationships to achieve results, which is why people trusted her in positions of authority. The city has lost one of its most important leaders of the last half of the 20th century.”

Former Mayor Karen Heck, who was the city’s fourth woman mayor after Hill, Judy Kany and Ruth Joseph, recalled Hill with fondness, saying she was sorry to hear of her passing.

“I was new to Waterville when Nancy became mayor and not much involved in city politics,” Heck said. “I remember buying my house down the street from hers though, and proudly telling my parents when we walked by that that was where our first female mayor lived.”

Hill made a big difference by putting herself in the political arena long before it was common to find women there, according to Heck.

“In addition, Nancy was a strong supporter of the Waterville Girls Club long before it became the Boys and Girls Club, a cheerleader for Waterville, and a passionate Democrat,” she said. “How could I not love her?”

Joan Sanzenbacher of Waterville was a close friend of Hill, who moved back to Massachusetts several years ago to be closer to family.

“Nancy was a great person — she was just a really good friend and a devoted Waterville citizen,” Sanzenbacher said Wednesday.

Hill, she said, returned to Waterville every summer after she moved back to the Boston area. She would stay with Sanzenbacher for two weeks during the Maine International Film Festival, which she loved to attend in the summer.

When Hill lived in Waterville, she was committed to the city and all its activities, according to Sanzenbacher, who is retired from Colby College where she worked more than 30 years and was director of special programs, director of the Equal Employment Office Affirmative Action and director of Women’s Services.

Nancy Hill and Paul LePage, strong supporters of a proposed city charter revision, stand outside City Hall in Waterville on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2000. Hill, the city’s first female mayor, died April 13. Morning Sentinel file photo

Sanzenbacher recalled Hill’s love for the Colby College Museum of Art, Colby Symphony Orchestra and Colby basketball.

“After she retired from politics, she was a member of the board for KFS for a very long time and she was active in the American Association of University Women in the Waterville area,” Sanzenbacher said. “Her third child, Michael, was a Colby student, and she really did follow all the Colby activities. We went to all of the Colby basketball games. She was a basketball junkie. She knew everything possible about basketball. She was a real crazy fan of the Celtics. Bill Russell was her favorite basketball player of all time.”

The last time Hill visited Sanzenbacher in Waterville was three summers ago, she said.

Joan Phillips-Sandy, chair of the Waterville Board of Education, also was friends with Hill.

“I knew Nancy when she was mayor of Waterville, and later we served together on the Board of Directors of Kennebec Federal Savings,” Phillips-Sandy said. “Despite her many incredible accomplishments, nothing mattered more to her than her family. Whenever I saw her, she’d catch me up on the latest about her kids and grandkids and ask about mine. She was wise and warm, free with good advice on most everything. I loved her.”

“Nancy was an absolute force of nature who taught me and my daughters the true value of seeking global dreams while also instilling the necessity for fostering community,”  said Pam Trinward, also a member of the Board of Education. “Her legacy will continue with many of us.”

Hill, whose maiden name was Gilbride, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, and graduated from Lowell High School in 1947. In 1952, she graduated from Columbia University School of Nursing at Presbyterian Hospital, according to her obituary. While working as a nurse in New York, she met Kevin Hill, a medical student from Waterville. They would marry in 1956. She worked at Massachusetts General Hospital while he served his residency at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.

They moved to Waterville in the early 1960s. There, she was a longtime parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish and served on the parish council.

She became active in politics and, in 1964, was chair of the Waterville Democratic City Committee, a delegate to many Democratic Party state conventions, and chaired the Maine Milk Commission, according to her obituary. She was involved in the Waterville Boys Club, Kennebec Valley Girls Club, Cub Scouts, National League of Cities and Kennebec Valley Mental Health Center, among other entities. She attended the Democratic National Convention in 1972 as a delegate for Sen. Ed Muskie and, at the convention, was elected to chair the foreign policy subcommittee for which she presented and defended the committee’s work on national television from the convention floor.

Hill later earned a bachelor of science degree in psychology from Thomas College and, five years later, ran for and won the first of two terms on the City Council. In 1981 she made history when she was elected the first woman mayor of Waterville. She was reelected in 1983 but her husband died suddenly in January the next year, and she decided to retire from politics at the end of her second term. Later, she worked 15 years as an executive at Maine Yankee Atomic Power Co.

Hill left behind a sister, Sheila Greene of New Smyrna Beach, Florida; four children and their spouses, Luke Hill and Mary Driscoll of Roslindale, Massachusetts, Mary Ann Hill and Patrick Dober of Newton, Massachusetts, Michael Hill and Jill Glickman of Barrington, Rhode Island, and Christopher Hill and Karen Seaver Hill of Alexandria, Virginia; and many grandchildren and other relatives. She was buried April 24 at St. Francis Cemetery in Waterville.

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