Richard Lewis Hill III

Richard Lewis Hill III

Richard Lewis Hill III, a longtime social and labor activist and volunteer at Baltimore Clayworks, died of pancreatic cancer at his Towson home on Oct. 7. He was 68.

Mr. Hill was born in Manhattan, Kan., the son of a lawyer and a homemaker. He studied drama at Kansas State University in Manhattan just as students on college campuses nationwide began protesting over civil rights and the Vietnam War. He became an activist, too, and left school before graduating, settling during the mid-1960s in Chicago, where he worked for the Socialist Workers Party.

A few years later, he married, and the couple in 1969 had a son, Vincent Ray, named after a Minnesota union organizer. At the request of the Socialist Workers Party, the family moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1970 to help in anti-Vietnam War protests, said Vincent Hill of Decatur, Ga. The couple also actively supported labor protests, including the farm workers' strike and boycott against grape growers.

"Some of my early memories are going to the grocery store and wanting to buy some grapes and being told we can't buy grapes," the son said. "I didn't grow up eating a lot of grapes in California."

After several years, Mr. Hill once more was asked by the Socialist Workers Party to move, this time to the East Coast, his son said. The family lived briefly in Washington until moving to Baltimore in 1975.

As the Vietnam War wound down, Mr. Hill refocused his activities on union-building, his son said. To be part of the community he was trying to organize, Mr. Hill enrolled in an apprenticeship program through what is now Local 486 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada. He became a steamfitter, working in the Baltimore area on a wide range of projects, including some at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant.

He remained a steamfitter until 2006, switching to work as a stationary engineer for Maryland's Department of General Services until his retirement this year.

By the late 1970s, his marriage ended. Mr. Hill continued to actively support human rights and progressive politics, and it was through those efforts that he met his wife, Deborah Bedwell. She had gone to a community meeting in 1979 to learn more about the Iran hostage crisis, and Mr. Hill was one of the panelists.

"He was very knowledgeable and well-read about international and national political issues where human rights were concerned," Mrs. Bedwell said.

Afterward, Mr. Hill approached her to ask whether she had any questions. The two single parents discovered they had much in common, including a love of jazz, Mrs. Bedwell said. Within a year, the two combined households and officially married in 2000.

At the time of their meeting, Mrs. Bedwell was a potter and working on launching Baltimore Clayworks, a nonprofit ceramic arts center. The center's founding director, she said her husband supported Clayworks by using his skills to weld the gas-fired kilns and maintain the heating system for several years until the center could afford to hire someone. He also volunteered at Clayworks' fundraisers over the years.

"He understood the vision of the place and wanted to help it succeed," said Pat Halle, a longtime member artist at Clayworks. He also was devoted to supporting his wife and her life's work, Halle added.

Mrs. Bedwell said her husband became a lover of art and the artist community, telling her, "The artists at Baltimore Clayworks have enriched my life immeasurably."

Mr. Hill's other interests that he shared with his wife include adopting Shetland sheepdogs, or Shelties, and traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

A memorial service for Mr. Hill will be held at 3 p.m. Nov. 3 at Stony Run Friends Meeting, 5116 N. Charles St.

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include a stepson, Edward Bedwell of Frederick; three sisters, Kaye Porter of Omaha, Neb., Joyce Leiker of Denver, and Patti Elam of Overland Park, Kan.; and four grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Annemarie Catrambone ended in divorce.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

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  • An earlier version of this article misstated the date Hill died. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.