Though she committed to donating the entirety of her holdings to charity when she joined the elite Giving Pledge in 2010, Lyda Hill of the Junior League of Dallas has never seen her wealth as the limit to her ability to serve in all aspects of her life—as a philanthropist, volunteer, entrepreneur and booster of public institutions.

“When I joined The Junior League and toured all of the different agencies it was helping, I saw what was out there—it opened my eyes,” says the 2015 Mary Harriman winner. “Then I understood what I could do about it.”

Her innovations and accomplishments are legion. She created the Volunteer Connection, which was replicated in 70 cities across the U.S. and later won her the President’s Volunteer Action Award and an appointment to President Ronald Reagan’s Advisory Council on Private Sector Initiatives. She lent her mathematics know-how to the League by serving in positions requiring financial savvy, and ultimately was the first president who also was a professional businesswoman, having built her company, Hill World Travel, into the largest travel agency in the country at the time. She spearheaded a campaign for $5 million to build a new headquarters.

Lyda not only broke gender barriers by working as a female executive in a male world, but she also broke with industry tradition by incorporating computers into her business. In 1975 she was invited into the Young Presidents’ Organization, becoming one of the first women in its membership.

Lyda’s business acumen combined with her own battle with breast cancer inspired investments in game-changing scientific and medical developments. She launched Remeditex Ventures, which invests in early biomedical research by universities and health care institutions, and the Oklahoma Breast Care Center.

In 2013, she became the only living single woman to make the Philanthropy 50, the annual list of America’s most generous donors, her gifts amounting to tens of millions of dollars to date. Among the recipients of her generosity are her alma mater, The Hockaday School, which will use her contributions to fund a STEM program, and the University of Colorado’s UTeach, which prepares a new generation of math and science teachers. She has underwritten a substantive Challenge Grant to Meals on Wheels; funded the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Moon Shots Program, as well as the Center for BrainHealth, which aids the recovery of military veterans from traumatic brain injuries; and supported numerous environmental and marine conservation efforts by the Nature Conservancy and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

For giving her talent to so many causes Lyda was honored with the Governor’s Award as the Outstanding Volunteer in Texas in 1988.

“I don’t get interested in something that can be done easily,” she says. Mary Harriman couldn’t have said it better.


This article was originally featured in the 2015 printed edition of connected.