Remembering the life and legacy of Eleanor Hill, former Drake educator


(Credit: Sir Francis Drake High School)

Eleanor Hill, esteemed journalism and English teacher at AWHS, smiles for her yearbook photo in 1986.

With her powerful demeanor and inspiring mentorship, Eleanor Leith Hill was a highly respected and cherished presence as an educator at Sir Francis Drake High School from 1984 to 1999. Eleanor passed away around 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Mar. 7, due to congestive heart failure, at the age of 84 years old. Eleanor, who was the head of the Drake English department and a legendary advisor of the journalism program, leaves an impactful legacy on the AWHS community.

Eleanor was born in 1937 in Massachusetts, towards the end of the Great Depression. Eleanor attended Crete-Monee High School in Crete, Illinois, and graduated in the class of 1955. From there, she studied English, Journalism, and Communication at the Illinois State University in Bloomington. 

After graduating from college in 1959, Eleanor developed her passion for education and mentorship by teaching journalism in several Chicago high schools. In the 1960s, Eleanor started teaching on the west coast and met her husband, Russell Hill, who was a teacher in Pittsburg, California. The pair moved to Marin, where Russell had gotten another teaching job, where they raised their three children, Laurel, Geoffrey, and Graham.

Eleanor Hill poses with her Advanced Journalism students in the 1990 Buccaneer yearbook. (Credit: Sir Francis Drake High School)

Eleanor engaged in the local community through Fairfax politics and the San Anselmo Babysitting Co-Op, but she was eager to return to teaching. She attended Dominican University in San Rafael, from which she earned her Masters of Arts in teaching English and History in 1976.

Eleanor briefly taught at White Hill Middle School, but jumped at an opening for an English teaching position at Drake in 1984. There, she taught American Literature, led the English department, and spearheaded the school journalism program the Jolly Roger (now called The Pitch). In the nearly 20 years that Eleanor was advisor, the Jolly Roger won various awards – namely the coveted Gold Crown from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) and another from the San Francisco Press Club.

Jasper Thelin, a 1987 Drake graduate and current AWHS Drama teacher, was a Sports and Spotlight Editor for the Jolly Roger when Eleanor was advisor. He says that Eleanor’s leadership bolstered the quality and reputation of the Jolly Roger.

“The sense of raising the bar and submitting it to the national organizations that rank and give out awards of recognition for the high school newspapers was something that she really valued because it helped the student-staff feel proud of the product we were doing,” Thelin said. 

Eleanor wasn’t just a teacher; she was a mentor. In a time before computers and digital software, Eleanor advised her students during “paste-up” days, where they would type up the articles on typewriters, print out each page with ink, and assemble the papers by hand. This process often lasted until 2 a.m., but Eleanor and her students persisted. Russell says that some of Eleanor’s journalism students even went on to become editors at the Chicago Tribune and Sunset Magazine.

According to Mary Jane Jones, who started student-teaching for Eleanor in 1993 and eventually took over as journalism advisor, Eleanor routinely defended her students when exploring difficult and hard-hitting topics. 

“There have been times when administrators did not want us to publish something.  [If you’re] aware of Student Press Law, they don’t have the right to do that. And in a situation like that, I know that Eleanor would have backed [the students] up,” Jones said. “…Nobody was going to push around the Jolly Roger reporters.”

Eleanor was also a mentor to other teachers at Drake. According to retired teacher Mary Kitchens, a former English teacher at Drake, Eleanor inspired her to be open to trying new teaching strategies.

“A lot of teachers, when they find what works for them, they sort of stick with that… So, I really admired how Eleanor kept exploring new things and was open to other teachers exploring and trying new things. She didn’t feel threatened by it or anything like that… She encouraged all of us,” Kitchens said.

Eleanor Hill poses with other teachers in the Drake English department, Peter Monahan, Michael James, Albert Lavin, Edward Wilkenson, and Sheila Girton, in the 1986 Buccaneer yearbook. (Credit: Sir Francis Drake High School)

Although Eleanor retired from teaching at Drake in 1999, she continued giving back to the academic community by mentoring student-teachers as an adjunct (non-permanent) faculty member at Dominican University from 2000 to 2012. 

Ellen Strempek, who taught English at Drake with Eleanor, says she hopes people remember Eleanor’s powerful leadership and influence, as well as her humorous personality.

She loved laughing and had a keen sense of humor, yet Eleanor possessed a real kind of grit,” Strempek said. “…Her legacy is in part her wonderful laugh and sense of fun but more importantly, the many students she taught and inspired to become journalists and others who learned to love literature. She was an extraordinary English teacher.”