By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell
Doris Thomas Hill, the founder and chief administrator of the South Memphis-based ESPN Academy, was determined to make the academy’s 19th anniversary celebration the best ever. Last Friday (Aug. 2) just after 5 p.m., Mrs. Hill passed away at Baptist Memorial Hospital.
She was 67.
“The banquet will go on as planned, just as we were instructed,” said Evidane Charlise Slaughter, Mrs. Hill’s goddaughter and ESPN staffer.
The Education Scholarship Preparation Nurture (ESPN) Academy was organized after Mrs. Hill expressed a concern to her pastor and husband, Dr. Alfred DeWayne Hill. She was troubled that children in the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church community had no place to go after school.
“Alfred was a big believer in education,” she had once said. “He felt it would be a great idea to provide a safe place for kids to come and receive help with their school work as well as spiritual guidance. And, that’s how we began.”
During the past school year, ESPN provided over 1,100 hours of instruction and tutoring, in its programs: Mother’s Day Out, Off-Site Tutoring, Saturday Academy, and After-School Tutoring.
Mrs. Hill was born on Sept. 21, 1951 in Memphis to parents Willie and Lucille Gales Thomas; her grandparents, Albert Gales Sr. and Armenthry Davis Gales, were Mississippi sharecroppers. She graduated from South Side High School in 1969, and later from Memphis State University (now University of Memphis), where she earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Personnel Management.
Levi Frazier Jr., fine arts professor at Southwest Community College, has known Mrs. Hill for 40 years.
“I had no idea Doris has passed,” he said. “We were working on the upcoming banquet. Just this morning, I was thinking to myself, ‘Let me get up and get busy. If Doris can keep going with all she has to deal with, surely I can, too.’”
Dr. Hill was killed in New Orleans in 2002 while the couple vacationed. Their son, Alfred DeWayne Hill Jr., was 15 at the time.
“Her son and my son were best friends, and DeWayne was staying with us when his father was killed,” said Regina Haley. “Doris made me promise to do everything possible to make sure DeWayne did not find out before she could get home to tell him herself. That’s just the kind of mother she was. Her son always came first before every thing.”
Two other close friends, Priscilla Williams and Sherry Thornton, reflected on Mrs. Hill’s impact upon them.
“I am the person you see today because of her mentoring and counseling. She became a surrogate mother when my own mother died,” Williams said.
“She was my sister, not just a friend,” said Thornton. “Doris was such a wonderful example of grace under difficult circumstances…I will always remember her wit, wisdom and warmth.”
Mrs. Hill retired from Krafts Food as senior manager of Human Resources. Prior to that, she was employed with Welcome Wagon International, retiring after 26 years.
She sponsored many ministry teams to Jamaica, Africa and South America as well as financed teachers and medical missionary teams to Haiti.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages a gifting tribute “to support the dreams and aspirations of the children of the ESPN Academy.” (P. O. Box 3324, Memphis, TN 38173.)
Visitation will be Friday, Aug. 9, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, 491 E. McLemore Avenue. The funeral service is at noon on Saturday (Aug. 10), with viewing from 10 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. Burial is in Elmwood Cemetery. R.S. Lewis and Sons Funeral Home has charge.
(For more information about the upcoming banquet, Contact Evidane Charlise Slaughter at 901-237-2197.)
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender