Lehigh University
Lehigh University


A “wonderfully long life, so very well-lived” celebrated

William C. Hittinger '44 '73H, seen here with his wife Betty, was remembered as loving family man and inspirational leader.

He was a man who was successful and accomplished in every area of his life—as a scholar-athlete, devoted husband to his high-school sweetheart and father of four accomplished children, a brilliant engineer who played a part in every major technological achievement of the mid-20th century, and a charismatic and effective leader who rose to and excelled at the highest levels of industry.

But the word most often used to describe former chair of the Board of Trustees and interim president Bill Hittinger, who died in March at the age of 90, was “humble.”

In mid-October, those who knew Hittinger best spoke at a Celebration of Life service in the Zoellner Arts Center—the cultural venue he was instrumental in developing on the Lehigh campus during his tenure on the board.

Joe Kender, vice president of advancement and alumni relations, spoke of Hittinger’s amazing ability to make anyone—no matter what his or her station in life—feel like the most important person on the room.

Lehigh President Alice Gast characterized Hittinger’s contributions and loyalty as extraordinary.

“He was a warm and generous leader” whose humble leadership was evidenced by his service to the university he loved. “Bill was probably the only former Lehigh president and Board chair to volunteer his time to sit at the information desk in the Alumni Memorial Building,” said Gast, who described him as “a magnificent person and true role model.”

His son, William J. Hittinger, talked about his father’s modest upbringing in Bethlehem, where he always had his sights set on “the school on the hill, although it often seemed out of reach.”

Although his academic and athletic accomplishments offered him entrée to the Ivy League by way of Penn and Cornell, Hittinger chose Lehigh since it was the only school that guaranteed his athletic scholarship in the event of injury, the younger Hittinger said.

“He lived at home, and walked miles back home after football practice. He really was one of those people who walked miles to school,” he said to laughter.

Both William and his brother, David, spoke of their father’s incredible devotion to his family, as evidenced by the time he spent with them working on homework, playing sports, sharing his wisdom or generally supporting them in all their pursuits.

“We came first, no matter how heavy the briefcase at night,” William said.

His attention and evident love of time spent with his family made his children feel, “snug and warm and secure and happy,” David said.

“He was kind and loving, but he set high standards and expectations,” David said. “He expressed disappointment and disapproval in a mild way. I’ve tried to model that behavior in my own professional life. I’ve found it’s so much more effective to be someone’s friend and be disappointed than to be someone’s enemy and kick them in the butt. It’s a very powerful management tool and he used it very well.”

A lifelong learner, the elder Hittinger continued to absorb information, often drawing upon his vast reservoir of knowledge to provide counsel to his children and grandchildren. One of them, David C. Hittinger Jr., said that his wise, gentle, fun-loving and extraordinary grandfather “might as well have been Superman” when he was growing up.

“He knew how everything worked. He knew the answer to any question. And he could punt a football so high in the air that if you could catch it, it would rip the skin off your arms.”

The elder Hittinger took personal interest in all his children and grandchildren, encouraging each of them to discover and nurture their special talents and find their own path in life.

“He positively affected everyone around him with his heart,” David said. “It’s a life not be mourned, but celebrated.”

Story by Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, October 11, 2013

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