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Bessie R. Hill, businesswoman

Bessie R. Hill, a former Harford County businesswoman who with her husband owned and operated the Aberdeen Air Park, died Tuesday of heart failure at her Sarasota, Fla., home. She was 99.

The daughter of a mechanical engineer and a homemaker, Bessie Rokos was born and raised in the old Czech neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. She was descended from the Rokos' and Kleckas' families, two of Baltimore's most prominent Czech families.

She was a 1928 graduate of Eastern High School. During the 1930s, she worked as a secretary for several New Deal agencies, said her nephew, the Rev. Michael Rokos of Mayfield, pastor of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Parkville.

In 1940, she married Thomas Clayton Hill, a Glenn L. Martin Co. aeronautical engineer, and eight years later, they purchased the property in Aberdeen that became the Aberdeen Air Park.

"During the 1950s and 1960s, Aberdeen Air Park became the largest private airfield in Maryland," said Mr. Rokos.

In 1959, Mrs. Hill, her husband and son, T. Clayton Hill Jr., won an air race from Philadelphia to Mexico City that was sponsored by the Jaycees. Her son was a Boys' Latin School graduate who died in 1961.

Mrs. Hill was a member of the 99's, a club of women with pilots' licenses that traces its origins to Amelia Earhart.

In the early 1970s, the couple sold the air park property for development, and donated 3 acres to Harford County, which built Hillsdale Elementary School on the site as a memorial to their son. They also endowed a scholarship and clazssroom at Boys' Latin in memory of their son.

They lived for many years in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, and permanently moved to Sarasota after Hurricane Hugo destroyed their home in 1989. Mr. Hill died in 1995.

A sportswoman all of her life, Mrs. Hill was a member of Sokol, a gymnastics and athletic organization that traces its roots to Czechoslovakia. She enjoyed golfing and with her husband founded Swan Creek Country Club in Harford County.

A world traveler, Mrs. Hill celebrated her 95th birthday by visiting Prague and "meeting many relatives she had never met because of the Nazi and Communist occupations," said Mr. Rokos.

She was a former communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer and was a member of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Sarasota.

Plans for services are incomplete.

In addition to Mr. Rokos, she is survived by another nephew and a niece.


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