The text came in at 6:04 tonight, just as I was beginning the final hour of my radio show. “Unconfirmed report that Adam Hill is dead.” I spent the next 15 minutes multi-tasking; continuing a conversation about the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima with my guest, while actively scanning local news sites for something, anything. Confirmation came through about 6:20 and, stunned, I finally shared the news with my listeners right after the break.
Since then, the calls, texts, emails, and FB messages have been piling up nonstop. “Have you heard the news? What do you think, Dave? WTF?” seems to be the general theme. I guess people want to hear from me because, after all, Adam and I had a history.
This is not the moment to rehash those fifteen years, that never-ending emotional rollercoaster ride. We can debate the pros and cons of 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill down the road, when the passage of time offers an unvarnished perspective.
Tonight, I’m thinking more about the Adam I first met in 2005 when I was doing a remote broadcast from the Avila Fish & Farmers’ Market. Adam wandered over during a commercial break and introduced himself–Cal Poly English lecturer and board chair for the SLO County Food Bank. He swung back by later and introduced me to his wife Ginny. I liked them both right away. Adam impressed me with his intelligence and passion. Who was this guy?
So it wasn’t surprising that Adam became part of the radio show–a regular guest on the issues of the day and eventually a rotating guest host. He was Smart. Articulate. Impressive. We quickly included the wives and soon it was Dave & Charlotte & Adam & Ginny gathering for Mexican food in Pismo, easily a dozen times. We exchanged Christmas cards. They came to Nipomo for our first Open House. It all seemed natural. And fun.
I wasn’t surprised when Adam decided to run for office and challenge Jerry Lenthall for county supervisor in 2008. We thought he would win, but certainly not by 18 points. We knew he had the capacity to be a great supervisor. All he had to do was be that same Adam Hill we had known for the previous three years.
I’ll stop there. For now. The post-2008 record is fairly well documented. Our relationship deteriorated and eventually became downright combative, culminating in my becoming a reluctant issue in Adam’s 2020 re-election campaign. But none of that matters tonight as word of Adam’s passing spreads around the county. Much will be written. Much will be debated.
I almost reached out to Adam after the suicide attempt last March, a nod to better days, but I honestly didn’t know what to say, nor was I sure about how such a gesture would be received. After all, I’ve been on the receiving end of too many Supervisor Hill emails over the years and it was never a pleasant experience. I did not disturb the sleeping dog.
Adam Hill is dead. I’m sad because I recall the young Cal Poly teacher, passionate about poetry and politics, funny and engaging. Full of promise and energy. I’m frustrated because all the mental health professionals in the county couldn’t save Adam. And I regret that we were never able to sit down and talk out our differences. This is not how I wanted our story to end.
He was an Icarus who eventually flew too close to the sun.
But how he soared. How high he flew.
6 thoughts on “The Icarus of District 3”
Very sad news, thank you for writing this Dave.
Dave, this is such a beautifully written tribute — kind, candid & sensitive. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so openly.
Just after I ended my grassroots campaign for the second district in 2006, an enthusiastic Adam Hill called me up and asked if I would meet with him to talk about my grassroots strategies to campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. I had never met Adam and I did not know of him. We sat at Andreini’s in Arroyo grande for a cup of coffee. I liked him—he was bright and compassionate. I was somewhat envious of him, that he was just starting out and I had just accepted defeat. But I felt valued in that I could give him what I had learned and hoped that it would help him in his campaign.
In my subsequent encounters with Adam, I empathized with the challenges he was facing in his seat. I saw him change over time. He still championed some of the same issues that I really cared about and he helped many good causes succeed—but I saw a different Adam. I loosely followed his conflict with you and others and I was disappointed at his sometimes adolescent behavior.
Was it the pressures of the job? Was it the person? Regardless, his death is tragic.
Please share with your listeners that emergency mental health services are available for those that seek it, or for those that come to the attention of emergency services:
24/7 Crisis Response:
(800) 838 – 1381
I never understood the changes I saw and probably never will. To me the end of saga is not where I expected it to go. Sometimes truth is so much stranger than fiction.
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I mostly knew the passionate caring, funny Adam. He was always kind and helpful to me. As he began to ‘unravel’ I couldn’t understand where that was coming from. Early on I even joked with him about some of his actions and that he was his own worst enemy. I wish today I had not said that, later of course learning the personal demons he had within. Slowly my contact with him lessened, but I did send him encouraging notes from time to time. I never thought this would truly happen and am truly saddened. To come to this his pain obviously was unbearable. Such a loss for so many people.
A great column. Thanks for writing this with such a thoughtful perspective.