Robert L. “Bob” Hill

December 2, 2012 

Robert L. “Bob” Hill, Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the Biochemistry Department at Duke University, died Thursday, November 29 at Duke University Hospital. He was 84. Dr. Hill is survived by his wife, Deborah Steege, his son Terry Hill, his daughters Amy Hill Gery (Frank), Geneva Hill (Jim), and Becky Hill Claycomb (Larry), and his five grandchildren.

Dr. Hill was one of the great protein chemists of his generation. He was instrumental in building the reputation and ranks of the Department of Biochemistry over nearly a half century career at Duke.

Bob Hill was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1928. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1949 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1954, both from the University of Kansas. He then moved to the University of Utah for his postdoctoral fellowship with Emil L Smith. He continued his work on protein chemistry and enzymology as a faculty member at Utah for several years.

Dr. Hill joined the Duke faculty in 1961 as an associate professor. He was recruited to the Department of Biochemistry to work in the field of protein chemistry and enzymology. He established one of the most highly regarded protein chemistry labs in the world and did work on a range of proteins and glycoproteins, most notably, lactose synthase.

Dr. Hill was appointed Professor of Biochemistry in 1965 and James B. Duke Professor of Biochemistry in 1974. He served as Chairman of the Biochemistry Department at Duke from 1969 till 1993, building one of the strongest Biochemistry Departments in the world. According to colleagues, the department’s environment under his leadership was exceptional, characterized by extraordinary morale and an almost family-like atmosphere. Under Dr. Hill’s direction, the visibility of Duke Biochemistry increased dramatically, with his own scientific achievements contributing significantly to the department’s reputation.

While at Duke, Bob Hill received continuous NIH grant support for 42 years to study the structure and function of proteins and enzymes in his lab. Hill effectively trained and mentored numerous graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in his lab, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in biochemistry. He also directed Duke’s MD/PhD program for many years and taught biochemistry to first-year medical students.

Bob Hill published 175 refereed papers over the course of his career. His accomplishments have been widely acknowledged by the scientific community, including election to the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the William C. Rose Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1991, the North Carolina Gold Medal (for science) in 1985 and the Karl Meyer Award from the Society for Glycobiology in 2001. Hill served as President of the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from 1976 to 1977 and had many executive leadership roles on national and international scientific societies. Hill served admirably on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry for 47 years, one of the longest editorial services in the journal’s history. In recent years, he has played major roles in the popular JBC Classics series, which highlights important papers in the history of biochemistry.

Bob Hill will be missed by his colleagues both within and outside of the Department of Biochemistry at Duke, and by his many former students and postdoctoral fellows.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Robert L. Hill Biochemistry Education Fund. Please send contributions to Kristina Amidon, Major Gift Officer, Duke Medicine Development, 512 S. Mangum Street, Suite 400, Durham, NC 27701.

Arrangements for the Hill family are under the care of Hall-Wynne Funeral Services. Online condolences:, select obituaries.

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