Legacy Series: Hill’s Life Blessed by Synchronicity

Posted: Tuesday, September 12th 2017 at 9:41 AM

There is no story to share of HRM Professor Frannie Hill that does not start with an understanding that at her core, she is a spiritual person. As she sees it, her life has been characterized by synchronicity, a flow of events leading to and now from HRM’s doors.

As a child, one of eleven children, Frannie moved from a small town in Minnesota to Chicago’s southside in 1968, the height of turbulent times. Personally experiencing violence, she “dealt” as best she could.

“It was a terrible time, for the Nation, the world – the National Democratic Convention, the Vietnam War – it was awful. Torn apart,” she recalled sadly.

She received her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at Mundelein College in Chicago. Post-graduation, she took a job as manager in the circulation department that handled ~10,000 deliveries of the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune a day, in South Chicago. It was there that she learned and practiced leadership by empathy.

“When I took over, we were in the red by hundreds of thousands of dollars, the service was poor, and people were complaining. I had to learn how to turn things around. As a team, we figured things out. I learned a lot about management and leadership. Leadership was the same then as it is today, being a compassionate human being,” she said.

But Frannie wanted more. She could see herself working on a college campus somewhere. So she interviewed for a job at the local St. Xavier College but didn't get it. The competing candidate had a master’s degree.

Frannie moved to Phoenix. She landed a job at Ramada Hotels’ corporate headquarters. Leaning on her experience with unions, customer service, and so much more, she started in the training department, and then transferred to corporate communications.

“That's where I learned to write. Dave, my boss, who was the vice president of Corporate Communications, taught me how to write,” she said.

In 1986, Ramada Hotels Worldwide purchased Marie Callender's Restaurants and Frannie moved from the hotel side to the restaurant side and did all of their corporate communications.

“We did a lot of fascinating, creative things. I totally enjoyed it,” she said.

Frannie’s path then led her to Flagstaff and Northern Arizona University’s doors. She began her master’s degree in Educational Leadership.

“I took Philosophy of Education and from that point on, I never looked back,” she said.

While working through her master’s degree, she had a graduate assistantship as an advisor at the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. She received her master’s in '92 and went on to achieve her doctorate in '95, all the while working at HRM. Upon graduation, Dr. Williams, then dean at the time, found her a faculty line. Seven years later, she became tenured as an associate professor.

“My life is synchronistic, which by Carl Young’s definition means, ‘meaningful coincidence.’ All these things just sort of dovetailed into making this whole life of mine possible. It was magic. My whole life is magical,” she said.

At this point in her career, the HRM curriculum committee was discussing adding a leadership class. She was given the class to create and develop. She looked to her parents, both of whom were professors, for inspiration, in particular, her father’s philosophy of education.*

“My dad was a brilliant professor. He taught everything from the Holocaust to theology to quantum physics. And my step-mom, Marg, taught mathematics. Both of them are so much a part of me.

“The course was going to have its debut spring 1996. That winter of 1995, I went home to Chicago. I had Marg on one side with her mathematical brain, and my dad on the other side of me, with his philosophical brain, and we sat there and we composed that leadership course. We put together what kind of measurements there would be. Marg helped me with that. Dad helped me with ‘What is your philosophy of education? What do you want to be? What is the bottom line?’ It was beautiful, and that was exactly how the Hospitality Leadership Course was created,” she said.

Until recently, Frannie was the only one who taught the leadership class. Every student had to take it, so at graduation, students ‘pile up’ to offer her their good-byes. And she has left each of them for the past 20 years or so with a pine cone.

“Because I live in Flagstaff and near to the forest with the peace and joy of the mountains, I spend a long time in the forest. I have a Ponderosa Pine Friend in the forest and his name is Grandfather Pine.  When I sit with my Pine Tree Friend, back-to-bark, I think about our students and wonder about what their lives will be beyond NAU. I started to gather pine cones from Grandfather Pine almost 20 years ago, and began to bring the pine cones to give to my students on the last day of class. I would invite them to take one. I want the students to always to remember that they had the privilege of studying at Northern Arizona University and wherever they go in their lives, to always be like the mighty Ponderosa pine tree: have deep roots, and stand tall, and look up, be a protector for all things great and small.’ ...And without exception, male or female, when I talk to students who have graduated, they'll say, ‘Professor Hill, I still have my pine cone.’ ...and that means everything to me,” she shared.

Frannie’s emphasis on the need in the hospitality industry to be a protector was heightened by a tragedy in 2007 that befell a former student, Jillian Groh, while staying at a hotel in Colorado. In the Spring of 2012, she tasked her three leadership classes to create an Oath for Hospitality Professionals.**

“We reasoned that like the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath, we needed to have an oath, a Hospitality Oath, because people's well-beings are in our hands. When you go to our restaurants and our hotels, we are responsible for your well-being. So I am very, very proud of that.

“It made a HUGE impact on the students about the responsibility that we have, as hotel and restaurant people. It's not just fun and games. We have so many far-reaching responsibilities,” she said.

The creation of the oath, inspired her to create her own educators oath and sent it to then NAU President John Haeger as she renewed her annual contract. It centered around her responsibility to care for the well-being of her students, community, and environment.***

As part of that nurturing, Frannie writes a personal letter to each of the students at the end of the semester about what insights she has gained about them.

“Some students come up to me and say ‘How could you know this about me? You couldn't.’ and I say, ‘I don't know how, all I know is that we were supposed to be together this semester – not last semester, not next semester, this semester – and we get to be in each other's lives, and I consider that an honor and a privilege. What I have to say to you at the end of the semester is what I observed. It's a gift that I am supposed to give you right here, right now,’” she said.

“This class is so personal, it has to be. Leadership is personal. I get to know the students like I would get to know someone’s children. And graduation is the most beautiful thing. When I get to meet the parents, I say to them (with the student’s permission, of course), ‘I'll tell you what I see in your son/daughter. This is the person I had the privilege of seeing and knowing.’ And then, I meet the Circle of Love that brought this human being into my life, into our lives here on this campus. It's such a beautiful thing, graduation.

“That's another thing about being a professor that's so great. We have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Not only each semester, but each academic year. It has closure. What other jobs do that? It's beautiful that way,” she said.

Another highlight of her time at the University was being able to recognize Dr. Hughes at the Honors Convocation in Spring 2017. Celebrating HRM’s 30th anniversary year, NAU President Emeritus Dr. Eugene Hughes, founder of the School, was the keynote speaker. Marilyn McDonald, former staff and HRM ‘family’ member, changed the words to Camelot, calling it Camelot Re-Visited**** and recognized Hughes as their King Arthur.

“The music of Camelot was playing in the background, and I recited Camelot Re-Visited to him. Dr. Hughes had the vision of what HRM has stood for all of these years, under his direction, his Camelot. I was so honored to be a part of this,” she said.

Synchronous events continued on the personal side of her life as well. In the spring of 2005, after the second day of the class, a young woman approached Frannie and said, "Oh, Professor Hill, you and my dad would be perfect for each other." It was Jenny McBroom, and Frannie met her father, Jerry, at graduation that year in the HRM garden. He was a 30-year veteran firefighter in Tempe, Arizona. They went on their first date 11 years ago and just celebrated their 9th wedding anniversary. Frannie embraced the children their union brought into her life, now having two step-daughters, son-in-laws, and six grandchildren. She celebrates “this beautiful wave of Life that continues to wrap around me!”

Moving into her second year of a three-year phased retirement, she is just beginning to glance forward as to what that might look like.

“I know that Jerry and I want to spend more time with the kids and the grandkids.

“I'm also looking forward to writing more. I love to write. I have the experience all the time that words come through me, as though I am a scribe. I type it, and then I look at it and I think, ‘I didn't compose that. I’m just the scribe. It was a gift.’

“I'd like to read more, things that aren't just academically inclined, although leadership is fun reading, for the most part. Poetry, perhaps?

“But the greatest thing of phased retirement is truly just being able to ease softly into that gentle night, not to have to stop and try and figure things out. This is a gift, too.

“Every year, I write a note to the President (of NAU) to go with my annual contract renewal, and have been for ten years. This year, I thanked Dr. Cheng for this gift of time.

“NAU's three-year phased retirement program, of which I am a fortunate first-year participant, is a rare opportunity to enjoy Time. More time spent with our students, to add to and fine-tune course materials, spend with colleagues, and time to spend with my family. Time to enjoy the seasons, fall, winter, and spring, which often slipped by as I enjoyed the multi-dimensions and joys of being a full-time professor. I find myself trying softer, rather than the more familiar ‘try harder’. How could I have known, if not for this unique opportunity, that softness brings an abundance of blessings?” she had written.

Looking back to her beginnings as a professor, Frannie turns again to thoughts of her parents.

“My dissertation was on the characteristics of exemplary professors. I dedicated it to Marg and dad and they were here for the defense. Dad brought his academic robes with him. As he put them around my shoulders, he said, ‘It's your turn to be a professor; the torch has passed.’ So I have been wearing my dad's regalia now for 22 years.

“How this synchronicity came about and that I get to do this life, to have it all – can you see it? can you feel it? It's just been a blessed journey,” she concluded, her eyes filled with the tears about a life that is truly a flow of meaningful coincidences.


* Frannie’s father’s philosophy of education

** Oath of Hospitality Professionals

*** Full letter to Dr. Haeger

**** Camelot Re-Visited


Categories: legacy series legacy series: hill’s life blessed by synchronicity frannie hill oath of hospitality professionals summer 2017 2017 camelot re-visited