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Officer's wife also a friend, mother, and quiet supporter


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 14, 2001

In the marriage of Donna and Butch Hillis, she was known as the quiet one.

He was one who never met a stranger, a trait that served him well as a detective for the Zephyrhills Police Department. He was the reason for all the uniforms and the 21-gun salute and the honor guard at the couple's funeral Wednesday.

Yet the 33-year-old wife and mother was just as much a part of the law enforcement family as anyone who carried a badge, those close to the couple said.

"We were worried that it might look like we were ignoring her," said Capt. Richard Scudder. "We know her family lost a daughter."

About 500 people gathered at St. Joseph Catholic Church to say farewell to both the Hillises, who were killed Saturday when a truck collided with their sport utility vehicle in a hit-and-run accident.

Those who knew Donna Hillis described her as quiet but strong, someone who was well-suited to be the wife of a cop.

"It's very hard to be the wife of a police officer," Scudder said. A police officer is always on call, he said, and that can strain a marriage.

"You're at the birthday party or the barbecue dinner and his pager goes off," Scudder said. "She's got to be understanding about that."

Those who knew the couple decribed Donna as patient and kind.

"She was always smiling," said Sue Langley, a dispatcher who knew Donna as a child. She recalled her as a petite, polite schoolgirl who rode bikes and played with her four sons.

In high school, Donna was part of the color guard for the Zephyrhills High marching band.

"She and I would twirl flags out in the yard," said Susan Nicely, a crime analyst at the police department and former classmate of Donna's.

None of their friends knew for sure how or when the Hillises met, but they said they were devoted to each other. When they returned from their honeymoon, the first place they went was the police department, where Butch showed off his bride.

"They came straight to the police department, and I got a hug from both of them," Langley said.

Later, after they had daughter Jolynn, Donna became a stay-at-home mom.

"There wasn't a day that went by that he didn't mention them in his conversations," Langley said.

Mrs. Hillis was a frequent visitor to the police station, often bringing lunch when the case load got too heavy for her husband to go home.

Jolynn was always in tow.

"She always had her dressed so cute," Langley said. Department employees got to see Jolynn's first little pair of sneakers as well as her first pair of sandals.

They also got to hear what Jolynn learned.

"If a new word was learned, we'd always get to hear that from her," Langley said.

What folks didn't hear about was Donna's health.

She had diabetes since she was a teenager, which led to other health problems.

"Unless you asked Donna point blank about her health problems, she never talked about her health," Langley said. "It was always, 'I'm fine. I'm hanging in there. It's better.' "

Neighbor Mickey Pinkston said despite Mrs. Hillis' illnesses, she never let it stop her from being a good mother to her only child, Jolynn.

"No matter how sick she was, they'd be out in the yard playing," Pinkston said.

A trust fund has been set up for 3-year-old Jolynn's education.

Anyone seeking information about how to donate may call Capt. Richard Scudder at (813) 780-0050 or Huntington National Bank at (780) 782-7773. -- Lisa Buie is the editor of the central/east edition of the Pasco Times. You can reach her at (813) 226-3454.

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