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Insight: Beth Hill

Hometown: Huntington, Long Island

Family: Partner Brian, and an adult son

Education: Bachelor of Arts in political science and history, Winthrop College, South Carolina; Master of Arts in history, American University Washington, D.C.

Occupation: President and CEO of the

Fort Ticonderoga Association

From a young age, Beth Hill has been insatiably curious about the world around her. She grew up on Long Island, where her family encouraged her curiosity for exploring the world through the lens of history. Throughout her career she has engaged in preserving historical objects and making them accessible to people, which she believes is one of the most powerful ways to connect the past to the future. Her career reflects passionate, driven and successful advocacy of the critical role that history plays in understanding where we are as a society today, and where we are heading in the future.

Hill’s first job after completing her education was at the MacArthur Memorial Museum. Her tenure there fortunately coincided with a decade when most World War II veterans were still alive. The Museum drew a lot of veterans with personal connections to the historical photographs, documents and objects in the collection. “It was an incredible experience to meet these people who gave their all for their nation,” she recalled, “Helping them reflect back on those experiences touched me in an extraordinary way.”

After a brief time working on collections and cultural experiences in Japan during her twenties, Hill returned to the Southeast to settle down and raise a family. She contributed to museum work in North and South Carolina before she was ultimately recruited to lead Fort Ticonderoga in 2010. As the current President and CEO, Hill spends most of her days making strategic plans, leading a team of department heads and fundraising for the non-profit organization.

She recently took time to share her passion for her work and some lessons we can learn from our collective past with Strictly Business readers. 

SB: How did you choose your career path?

BH: I have always been very passionate about the world around me. I loved learning about politics and international relations. Early in my life I realized that without a historical compass to give us context, we would not fully understand the meaning behind what is happening in the world today. Taking that one step further, without understanding the world today it is hard to know where we are headed. That’s why I decided to pursue history for my graduate work. From there I went into the museum field, specializing in what I would call public history. I prefer the front-facing work, where I can engage audiences of all ages with historical inquiry, education and inspiration. 

SB: What important lessons did you learn early on in your career?

BH: I learned that setting a vision, building a plan and then working hard paid off. Persistence is needed because most things do not offer immediate satisfaction.

SB: Who was one of your most influential mentors?

BH: I have always sought out mentors who are not in my field, because it forces me to think in different ways. One of my greatest mentors was David Grogan, a man who was on my Board of Trustees at the French and Indian War site in North Carolina. He was a successful businessman and had a tremendous mind. As a non-profit organization, we need a very strong business plan to sustain us. We are in the ‘forever’ business here. David’s expertise has been instrumental in guiding me, and he’s still influential as one of the members of the Fort Ticonderoga Board of Directors.

SB: How do you see history impacting the present day and the future?

BH: In today’s world we are bombarded with half-truths, sound bites and divisive political agendas, largely because of social media’s deep penetration into our lives. Content is available immediately, and it is rarely fact checked. At a time when we’re seeing the world changing at such a fast and concerning pace, history and historical understanding plays a fundamental role in helping make stronger citizens. Learning about history here at Fort Ticonderoga is not going to solve all the problems in the world, but I do believe we’re going to make an impact on them. Our goal is to help shape the hearts and minds of the next generation to build stronger citizens who have a deeper understanding and appreciation of those who have gone before them.

SB: What is your favorite quote and how does it speak to you in your life?

BH: I have always loved Mark Twain’s quote, ‘I would have written you a shorter letter if I had more time.’ Twain was so clever and had an admirable ability to distill complex thoughts. In my field, there is often so much content out there that is difficult to briefly express in ways that are meaningful and impactful to stakeholders. It takes time and reflection, and this quote exemplifies that for me.

SB: Tell me about the culture of your organization?

BH: We all understand our purpose here and it encompasses much more than what we do when we come to work every day. There is incredible meaning to our work that extends far beyond ourselves as individuals. We are doing important work that is impacting the nation, connecting the past to the present and future. We consider that a precious role and responsibility, and everyone understands that.

SB: What does success look like to you?

BH: Success is having a purposeful life and making an impact. It’s realizing that what you’re doing is impacting lives. There are so many wonderful everyday examples of this here at Fort Ticonderoga. I see it when I go out on the site and hear people talking about what they see, and then seeing a spark go off in them. It’s rewarding to witness the moment when a young person connects with the past, and suddenly finds the meaning it has for them. When I see those moments, and I see my staff engaged in those moments, I know that my hard work and commitment to this organization helped to make that happen. That’s success to me.

SB: What habits contribute to your success?

BH: When you’re in a leadership role, it can come with a very rigorous schedule, and it can feel like you’re constantly giving. It’s important to prioritize self-care and know when it’s time to step away to refresh. I’m a very disciplined and organized person, with daily routines that keep me on track. I don’t have a lot of free time, but I really do try to find moments to enjoy the passions that refresh and fill my soul.

SB: What are you most proud of professionally?

BH: I’m most proud of saving Fort Ticonderoga, which was in a very serious financial situation when I was hired back in 2010. I was tasked with transforming the organization into a whole new endeavor, positioning it on the international stage as an important site for historical education. That has happened as a result of many specific projects. As one example, I am thrilled that we were able to restore the 1826 national historic landmark called The Pavilion, which was a $9M project. It is a historic home that was built by our Museum founding family. 

Right now, we are in the process of acquiring the single most important private collection of 18th century military objects from the Atlantic World. It is a $12M project involving 3,000 objects. With this acquisition we will ensure that these historic objects are preserved for posterity and for use by scholars and researchers, rather than going out for auction. 

SB: What is something no one would guess about you?

BH: I’m a concert pianist. I have played piano for as long as I can remember, and I have music in my soul. I could read music before I could read words. When I graduated high school, I chose a college specifically to study under a well-known pianist, and I was originally headed toward the concert stage for my career. I can play professionally. I don’t play in concerts anymore, but playing is still a joy.

SB: How would you like to be remembered? 

BH: I want to be remembered as a person with passion and purpose, who accomplished important work for the generations to come. It’s a gift to be in this field because our work goes far beyond any of us as individuals. I don’t know that everybody has a deep desire to leave a legacy and do something remarkable, but I certainly do, and I know my team does too.

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