Kim Hill, at 44; inspiration for Ronald McDonald House

By Daniel E. Slotnik
New York Times / March 15, 2011

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NEW YORK — Kim Hill, whose childhood battle with leukemia inspired the first Ronald McDonald House, the model for an international network of temporary housing for families of sick children, died March 5 in Orange, Calif. She was 44.

The cause was brain cancer, said her father, Fred Hill. When her family learned she had leukemia at age 3, doctors predicted she would not reach adulthood.

Ms. Hill first came to public attention in 1972, when her father, a former tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles, held a team fund-raiser for the Leukemia Society of America in her honor. Its success — more than $10,000 was raised — prompted Fred Hill and a neighbor, Stan Lane, to start their own charity, Eagles Fly for Leukemia, with backing from Eagles owner Leonard Tose.

The housing idea was suggested by Dr. Audrey Evans at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia when Mr. Hill and Lane asked her about ways to use the money they raised. She saw a need for short-term lodging near the hospital for families of cancer patients.

Local McDonald’s outlets were brought into the effort in 1974, when the Eagles reached an agreement with them to feature quarterback Roman Gabriel and other players in a promotion for “shamrock shakes’’ if the franchises donated a portion of the sales to buy a house. A McDonald’s official later offered all the shake proceeds if the house was named after its mascot, the clown Ronald McDonald. The charity accepted.

Ronald McDonald House Charities now operates 302 houses in 30 countries.

Ms. Hill remained a spokeswoman for the houses for years, appearing at house openings and riding on a float celebrating the charity’s 10th anniversary in the 1984 Rose Parade.

Kimberly Michelle Hill was born in Orange, Calif., on Aug. 11, 1966. She was a McDonald’s manager until she was found to have two brain tumors 20 years ago.

Fred Hill said his family first stayed in a Ronald McDonald House in 1991, when Ms. Hill had the first of five brain operations.

In addition to her father, she leaves her mother, Frances; two sisters, Kyle and Kristina; and a son, Andrew.