Ronald Hillery

ronald hillery

December 23, 1934 ~ July 16, 2019

When someone is asked to describe someone else, you'll usually hear words like "what a character" or "one of a kind" or maybe even "after God made him, He broke the mold". In Ron's case, yeah, all of the above.

Ron's story began in Chicago, in 1934. He was the oldest of three boys, and at the age of 14, he was enrolled in The Mt. Carmel Seminary, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. For the next 7 years, he studied there, served a Novitiate in Pennsylvania, and attended St. Bonaventure College in NY State. He was this close becoming a Carmelite Priest, when something came along that changed his mind. In 1959, a friend by the name of Jerry Cushing introduced him to Judith Acosta. Bad break for the Carmelites! Less than a year later, in 1960, Ron and Judy were married. Together they raised 5 children while Ron was working for The Household Finance Company in Chicago.

In 1973, while still in Chicago, Ron received a call from Joe DiMaggio, or maybe someone else from The Bowery Savings Bank, and was offered a position with them in New York City. So he packed up his family, (and if he packed anything like he packed for the move from Hillside Ave, to Gladwin, God help those movers) and moved East to Leonia, NJ.

I don't know what would possess a young banker working in the City with 5 young children at home to join a Volunteer Fire Department, but I suspect it had something to do with the close proximity of his Hillside Avenue home to Manor Beverage. So I guess we have Chuck to blame/ thank.

In 1976, the Leonia FD was only authorized to have 40 members along with junior auxiliary members, and there was a waiting list to join. Once Junior members turned 18 they were able to move up to the regular department, as long as there was an opening. 3 Juniors, John Giannuzzi, Jamie Oliva and myself, were all 19 years old, and itching to get on the regular FD, but couldn't, because there were no openings. And on top of that, there were 2 other guys ahead of us. Nick Costantino, and Ron Hillery. So right off the bat, those 2 guys were not on our list of favorite people. But Chief Richie Paulos petitioned the council to increase the membership to 45, and in January of 1977, all 5 of us were appointed.

A volunteer fire department is usually made up of contractors, electricians, plumbers and mechanics. Generally people who are comfortable around tools. Does any of this sound like your father? We already had a banker, Bob Pierson, and we had a Priest, Father Joe. So how was this guy going to fit in?

Then voila!! RANGER TICKETS!

Once we learned that Ron had access to The Bowery's Ranger season tickets, he was as good as gold. Evidently, there weren't too many hockey fans at The Bowery, so every time the tickets were unused, they wound up with the LFD. It didn't take long for me to change my opinion about Ron. Sometimes, he would go with us, and those were the best times, because he also had an expense account at the Garden Restaurant! But other times, he would just give the tickets to whoever was available to go. Over the next few years, we also went to Yankee games, and there were Knick tickets too, which nobody seemed interested in. I also got to go to a World Series game, and watched the 1980 US Olympic hockey team play against the Soviet Union. The US got crushed that day, but given what happened just a few weeks later, it was an experience I'll always treasure. But all good things must come to an end, and when Ron retired from the Bowery, I don't know who was more disappointed; Judy or me.

But in the meantime, Ron did find his niche in the fire department. It was in the driver's seat of the Rescue Truck. And it wasn't really a niche, it was actually a pretty sizable dent in the seat. He loved driving that truck. So much so, that he became the Engineer on it. A position he held for many years.

Father Joe also left to join the Air Force, leaving us without a Chaplain. So this was just a no brainer. Ron became our Chaplain, and retains that title to this day. In fact, a few years ago, members of the town council sought to re-arrange the fire department (I'm being nice here) and they looked over the attendance records so see how many members they could get rid of. When they got to Ron's name, one council member said "this guy lives in Swedesboro, what does he do for the fire department?" I answered "He's our Chaplain, he prays for us". His answer was "well I don't see any harm in keeping him".

Ron also served for many years as our Company Secretary and Assistant Secretary and also President and Vice President of the Leonia Relief Association. So as it turned out, there was plenty to keep him busy.

Back to the work situation; The end of The Bowery, turned into the beginning of another venture. Not long after his retirement from the Bowery, one of the drivers from the bank's car service asked Ron if he could fill in for him and drive one of the clients for a day. He did, and this time it really was none other than Joe DiMaggio. Ron obviously enjoyed it, and shortly thereafter, R&J Limousine service was born. He always said he loved to drive, and God knows he loved to talk, so this seemed like the perfect fit. And we can't forget that meticulous record-keeping system that he kept on his bedroom desk.

Did I say "Meticulous". Oh, sorry, this is from Kevin's eulogy. With that mess, It's a wonder anyone got anywhere on time! But somehow, Ron had it all under control.

It was actually Ron and his limo that saved our honeymoon the morning after our wedding when we suddenly realized the pick-up time we gave him was an hour too late. We frantically called him at 5:30 AM and gave him about a half an hour to get to the Holiday Inn in Totowa to pick us up and then get us to the airport. I don't know how, but we made it. We even left him our bag with all our wedding presents in it to give to Merch's mother while we were away.

Over the years, we also learned about Ron's unique parenting and babysitting skills. My favorite part, was his diaper changing technique. The one where he would put a snowsuit on the baby so he could just pull the zipper up if the smell got too bad, and wait for Judy to come home. Did this really happen?

Oh yeah, there were also 11 grandchildren that he continuously bragged about. For a period of many years, it seemed like he was constantly running all over the country for births, christenings, birthdays and communions and he loved every second of it.

Ron was also a successful politician. In 1989 he was elected to the town council back when there were still Republicans in Leonia, and he actually did serve as the Police Commissioner.

In 1994, the Hillery family suffered through a terrible tragedy when Ron Jr. passed away. I truly believe that this loss took a great toll on not only Ron and Judy, but on the entire family.

The next stage of Ron's life began when he moved to Sweedsboro, NJ, famous for EXIT 2. Unfortunately, it was Judy's illness that necessitated the move. But all the while, he never stopped thinking about Leonia and he tried to keep up on everything that was going on in town. His primary sources of information were Facebook and The Leonia Taxpayers' community chat room. But for some reason, he was unable to receive the emails direct from the Taxpayers' server, so we had to forward them from our computer. Usually, this worked pretty good, but occasionally, something would go wrong, and that's where my son and I came in. We were his tech support team. And since Ron was technologically challenged, we were on call quite often. You see, Ron was OK using a computer as long as anything he needed he was able to get to with one click. Do you know what it's like trying to set up a shortcut over the phone with someone that doesn't know what a title bar is? It made for some fun conversations.

Chuck, in the meantime, was very good to Ron. He made numerous excursions to Exit 2 and would take him to doctors appointments, and anyplace else they were inclined to go. Imagine those 2 spending a day out together? On one particular trip to a doctors appointment, they were so engrossed in conversation that they drove east on Rt. 70 all the way to Lakewood, before they realized they were supposed to have gone west. I think they were late for that appointment.

Ron had a very caring nature about him that turned up during one of our visits. We stopped in on the way to Ocean City, MD and spent the day there and planned to leave in the morning. He insisted that we stay in his bedroom, and Jack sleep in the guest room, while he stayed in his favorite recliner. At some point during the night, we heard some noises coming from the living room that sounded like a police radio. Being half asleep, and always having a scanner on my night table at home, I didn't pay any attention to it, but my wife said go out and see what's going on. We went out to the living room, and there were 2 cops and 2 EMT's walking Ron from the bathroom back to his chair. I shock, we asked him what happened? He said he got up to go to the bathroom and he fell and couldn't get up, so he pushed the button on his Medic Alert. I said "why didn't you call for us, Jack was in the room right next to the bathroom?" He said "I didn't want to bother you, you have a long ride in the morning."

Judy's passing in 2013 was devastating to him, and I really believe that he felt that his purpose had been served. It seemed like since then, he was just biding his time, waiting until the day they would be together again.

On the first anniversary of her death, Ron got in his car and drove out to Chicago so he could park next to her grave and be with her. He packed nothing, and he said he had no money to spend on a motel room, so his plan was to get some rest in the cemetery, then turn around and drive home. During the night a police officer found him in his car and thought he was homeless. When he told him why he was there, they felt bad for him and took him to a local hotel where he was given the penthouse suite for the night. This could only happen to Ron. I just wonder what it was he actually told the cop. Did he show his "badge"?

Some time after that, Ron went out to Texas to visit Colleen. He had a wonderful visit and fell in love with their home. He enjoyed the pool and the grandkids. Colleen attempted to get him to move in with them, and his reply was, "sure, but I'll need the master bedroom". To anyone that hears this story, it may sound selfish, but I think it was just his way of saying no so he would be able to stay in his house with his memories & his recliner.

So now, Ron will take his final trip back to Chicago where it all began and be with Judy and Ron Jr. and they're probably all being pulled around by Hobbs. Funny how circular life can be.

So inclosing, I'll just simply quote the late Bob Hope and say "Thanks For the Memories"

Rest in Peace, Ron


Mass: July 20, 2019 11:00 am

St. Cecilia's R.C Church
55 W. Demarest Avenue
Englewood, NJ 07631

Visitation at Funeral Home: July 19, 2019 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Frank A. Patti & Kenneth Mikatarian Funeral Home
327 Main Street
Fort Lee, NJ 07024

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Memories Timeline


  1. Our deepest condolences to one of our favorite guys Ron Hillery here at Four Seasons at Weatherby! Please know that our hearts and prayers go out to Ron's family. Always had the biggest smile and we enjoyed his company. Randy & SunShine Croce

  2. Great man and a great neighbor. Always remember that huge American Flag hanging from his house for the Memorial Day Parade.

  3. Knew Ron and his family for many years, a great man as well as a good family. He will not soon be forgotten.

  4. To the Hillery family, my sincere sympathy and condolences on Ron's passing. I served beside him in the Leonia Volunteer Fire Department for 30 years and I always considered him a mentor and friend who was dedicated to serving his community and our organization. He will be missed.

    Sincerely, Robert Moran Ex-Chief Leonia Volunteer Fire Department

  5. Ron was a dear friend and fellow firefighter of our father, former Chief Tony Liccardo. He was also our Gladwin Avenue neighbor. On behalf of the entire Liccardo family (Ned, Janet, Barbara, Judy, Jack, Lori and myself), I extend our sincere sympathy to your family. He was a fine man and will be missed.

  6. Our heartfelt condolences to the Hillery family. For the past 7 years Ron and Jim were together most days. Ron could expect Jim to visit every morning at 6:00 A.M. with a dunkin donuts coffee and his favorite coffee bun. They prayed the rosary and shared ther special intentions. Then Ron would attend the televised Mass at 8:A.M. They would talk politics and college football. They shared a friendly rivalry, Ron was an avid Notre Dame fan and Jim a UofM fan. The past 2 years were really a struggle trying to get Ron to take a short walk. Jim and I would prepare a list of movies with the hope he would enjoy them since he was confined to his recliner. We would make him a dinner platter and on Holidays, he would recieve a platter from our family and also Meals on Wheels. He was a real jokster and played many jokes on Geri. They would spend hours on the telephone and she really enjoyed his hearty laugh. During the summer, It was a must that we bring him a lb. of vanilla fudge, only Douglas Fudge would do. He was somehat picky in what he ate and made sure he told us what he liked and what he didn’t like. (Always in a gentle manner). We truly loved Ron and we let him know he was loved.

  7. I did not Ron long but went spent some time together back and forth to dr appointment and always ended up with Ron getting his hair cut and going back to his house so I could make him some lunch. Me and Ron had a few things in common we were both in the fire company and we would tell story’s from past and present. Rest easy my friend!

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