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David Hillman, CEO of Southern Management Corp. and Baltimore-area developer

David Hillman, a Baltimore-area developer and chairman and CEO of Southern Management Corp., died of cancer Dec. 27 at his home in McLean, Va., according to company officials.

He was 75.

Southern Management Corp., founded by Mr. Hillman in 1981, is a major developer in the Baltimore area and one of the largest owner-operated property management companies in the country.

The Vienna, Va.-based firm manages 78 communities with 25,000 apartments, 1.5 million square feet of commercial space and three hotels, including The Hotel at the University of Maryland near the university’s main campus in College Park, which broke ground in 2014.

Its Baltimore-area properties include the Hotel at Arundel Preserve, as well as historic downtown apartment buildings such as the Atrium, the former Hecht Co. flagship department store at Howard and Lexington streets; 39 West Lexington, the site of the former Baltimore Gas and Electric Company Building on Lexington Street; and the Standard, which was formerly the Standard Oil Building on St. Paul Street.

Mr. Hillman had “a very long-term view of owning real estate. We don’t flip and sell,” said his wife, Suzanne D. Hillman, who took over as CEO of Southern Management In December. They were married in 1981.

“He was a change agent. He had a vision,” she said, describing how her husband created a company that would work with local governments, other residents, schools and churches to invest in neighborhoods, not just the property.

“He was a deal junkie. He loved putting something together that no one else could do. He loved that. It made him feel really good,” his wife said.

Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, called Mr. Hillman “a pioneering visionary who anticipated and led the housing boom in downtown Baltimore.”

In an email, Mr. Fowler said Mr. Hillman “created a residential market in Downtown Baltimore where none had existed before. ... David was at the forefront of recognizing that residents needed a neighborhood grocery store, and he bent over backwards to create one at Charles and Saratoga streets, now operated by Streets Market & Cafe.

“David and his company also generously supported, with capital and operating dollars, Downtown Partnership’s renovation of Center Plaza in 2007, which stands as one of the most successful public spaces in the City. In large part because of David, Downtown Baltimore is now the fastest growing neighborhood in the City and top 10 in the United States for the number of residents,” Mr. Fowler said.

Mr. Hillman was born in Washington, D.C., to Joseph and Dorothy Hillman. His father had emigrated from Eastern Europe and built a chain of local grocery stores where Mr. Hillman worked, including driving trucks while he was in school, said John Cohan, director of marketing at Southern Management Corp.

Mr. Hillman graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1959. He later graduated from Strayer College while working to become a certified public accountant, and served as a bookkeeper for a construction company, Mr. Cohan said.

After college, Mr. Hillman worked in an accounting firm but hated the way he was treated by his employer and left to start his own firm, David H. Hillman and Co., said his wife. One of his clients at the time was was a developer who bought a lot of land around Maryland and Virginia, and Mr. Hillman helped the developer with financing. From that, Mrs. Hillman said, he moved into real estate management, and founded Central Management in 1965 with business partner Melvin Lenkin.

In addition to his real estate company, Mr. Hillman served on the board of the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the Business Advisory Council for the Comptroller of Maryland.

When he wasn’t working, Mr. Hillman enjoyed boating and fishing. His wife said he enjoyed taking trips to Bethany Beach, Del., where he would often fish for his dinner. “It was a little bit of heaven for him out there,” Mrs. Hillman said.

The foundation named for him and his wife — the David H. and Suzanne D. Hillman Family Foundation — created the Hillman Entrepreneurs Program through the University of Maryland and Prince George’s Community College in 2006, according to the program’s website. The scholarship is targeted to students who have an interest in entrepreneurship and business, and who want to “energize and give back to their local communities.”

The site quotes Mr. Hillman’s goal for the program: “We want to give people confidence to fail, to try, to walk differently than anybody else. People will be successful if they set high goals and aim to achieve them. It will make the world a better place.”

Mr. Cohan said his boss of 18 years was “incredibly supportive” of his employees. He said Mr. Hillman encouraged employees to take risks and make mistakes, but to use missteps as a chance to learn.

Information from his company noted that Mr. Hillman had received numerous awards for business and community service, including the Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber’s Freeman Hrabowski Visionary Leadership Award, The Daily Record’s Innovator of the Year in 2002 and the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce’s Excellence in Business Award for Community Service.

Mr. Fowler noted that the Downtown Partnership awarded Mr. Hillman a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

“David possessed a positive spirit which he couldn’t really contain — although he tried to pass himself off as a curmudgeon,” said Mr. Fowler. “He was creative, philanthropic and, indeed, a very funny man. I miss him already.”

A memorial service has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at The Hotel at the University of Maryland, 7777 Baltimore Ave. in College Park.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Hillman is survived by a daughter, Cheryl Hillman, and a son, Richard Hillman, both of Potomac; a sister, Wendy Kaplan of The Villages, Fla.; three grandchildren; and a large extended family with many nieces and nephews. His first marriage ended in divorce.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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