George Watts Hill, Tar Heel in Cloak

An image of Hill from Preservation DurhamOn October 27, 1901, George Watts Hill was born to a prosperous family in Durham. The newborn would inherit wealth, commanding a fortune earned in banking, and over time would demonstrate an abiding sense of devotion to his country.

The gathering storms of war in 1939 roused alarm in Watts Hill and led to his involvement in the secret war against Hitler. In the face of neutrality advocates, he signed onto “A Summons to Speak Out” and enlisted the support of three dozen Tar Heel businessmen, educators and journalists on behalf of intervention in Europe. In March 1942, he joined what soon became known as the Office of Strategic Services.

Hill’s administrative experience made him invaluable to the OSS’s “Wild Bill” Donovan who placed him in charge of the camouflage unit and devices central to the work of spies, such as disguises, fake uniforms and passports and listening equipment. After the war Hill returned to banking but also played roles in health care reform, desegregation and, as a UNC trustee, the overturn of the Speaker Ban. He died in 1993, the year that UNC named its alumni center for him.

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