Portrait of former City Council President Gil Hill unveiled at Detroit City Hall

Gil Hill held a number of important roles during his time in Detroit, including 30 years with the Detroit Police Department, many leading the homicide department and nearly 15 on Detroit City Council. He became the city’s first African American male City Council president, serving from 1997-2001.

Following tradition, the portraits of former Detroit City Council presidents hang inside City Hall in the “Committee of the Whole Room.” Hill’s portrait was unveiled Tuesday during a ceremony inside the Erma Henderson Auditorium. Henderson was the first African American woman to elected to Detroit City Council in 1972 and the first to serve as president from 1978-1989.

Hill’s family, friends, colleagues, and former staff were in attendance for the brief ceremony that followed a City Council session.

“One thing that was imperative to Gil Hill, as it relates to handling constituent’s calls or inquiries, was that no matter what level of government that inquiry involved, we had an obligation to see to the very end that it was handled,” said Chris Jackson, a former staffer. “And things like that became the norm here on the 13th floor because of Gil Hill.”

Gilbert Roland Hill was born November 5, 1931 in Birmingham, Alabama. His mother moved to Washington D.C., where he had aspirations of attending the prestigious HBCU Howard University, but was too poor. Instead, Hill joined the United States Air Force, where he was stationed a few miles from Detroit at Selfridge Air Force Base.

After leaving the Air Force in 1953, Hill joined the Wayne County Sheriff’s office in 1957. In 1959, he joined the Detroit Police Department (DPD) and quickly climbed the ranks, making detective and then joining the homicide department. In 1980, he was one of five veteran homicide detectives from police departments around the country chosen to help investigate the murders of 11 black children and the disappearance of four others in Atlanta. The investigation ended in 1982 with the conviction of Wayne Williamsin two of the murders. Hill came the chief of the DPD homicide department that same year.

Hill was head of DPD’s homicide division when he landed a role in the 1984 action-comedy “Beverly Hills Cop” as Eddie Murphy’s tough-talking boss, Inspector G. Douglas Todd. In the movie, Murphy played cop Axel Foley and famously wore a Detroit Mumford Physical Education Department t-shirt and vintage 1967 Detroit Lions varsity jacket.

After retiring from law enforcement in 1989, Hill turned to serving Detroiters in other ways, being elected to Detroit City Council. In 1997, he was elected as the first African American male president of Detroit City Council. He drew praise from his fellow council members for building bridges and thoughtfully representing Detroiters.

In 2001, Hill unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Detroit, losing to 31-year-old Kwame Kilpatrick. In 2003, he to former JoAnn Watson in an election to fill an empty seat on the City Council.

Hill passed away February 29, 2016 in Detroit from respiratory illness. He was 84.

COVER PHOTO: Caprice Jackson

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