Paul Hilliard to be Honored with 2009 Horatio Alger Award

Last July, I introduced the RedState community to Paul Hilliard: my boss, my role model and my friend.

This Friday, April 3, in Washington, D.C., Paul will be honored as one of eleven recipients of the 2009 Horatio Alger Award.

The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc. bears the name of the renowned author Horatio Alger, Jr., whose tales of overcoming adversity through unyielding perseverance and basic moral principles captivated the public in the late 19th century. The Association, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit educational organization, was established in 1947 to dispel the mounting belief among the nation’s youth that the American Dream was no longer attainable.

The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans is dedicated to the simple but powerful belief that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles. Today, through its Members, the Association continues to educate our nation’s young people about the economic and personal opportunities afforded them by the promise of the American free enterprise system. …

Gee, that sounds passe. One can’t help but wonder, with the class warfare prevalent in our society today, if the promise holds any meaning.

We have turned over the reins of government to a political elite who spend their time and energy thinking of new ways to erect obstacles for the achieving class: not the folks who were born into money, or married into it, but the ones who came from nothing and through education, perseverance, risk taking and hard work, built something.

From Mr. Hilliard’s bio:

Clayton Paul Hilliard was born in 1925 on a small farm in Northern Wisconsin. His father was chronically ill so his mother, with the help of his older brother, managed to make a living from that 80-acres, albeit without the luxury of electricity, indoor plumbing or an automobile. In February, 1943, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, where he served for 40 months, 14 of them in the Pacific as a radioman-gunner in SBD “Dauntless” dive bombers. Upon his discharge, he used the GI Bill to attend college at the University of Wisconsin and Syracuse University.  He received his law degree from the University of Texas in 1951.

The young lawyer decided on a career in oil and gas exploration, first with the predecessor of Chevron Corporation and then with legendary oil man H.L.Hunt. At the age of 30, and with $400 in the bank, Hilliard left the security of a company job behind to seek his fortune as an entrepreneur:  an independent oil man. Risk was part of the allure of being independent, but he could not foresee the 54-year (and counting) roller coaster that lay ahead. Hilliard’s privately-held Badger Oil Corporation has survived business downturns, dry holes and hurricanes to become one of the more successful small operators in the Gulf of Mexico and South Louisiana.

My favorite Paul Hilliard story: his family was forced to leave the farm and move to town when his younger brother burned down the barn, and with it the tools, implements, and the next winter’s supply of hay. For the first time the Hilliards had indoor plumbing and electricity. Paul refers to his brother as “the Emancipating Pyromaniac”.

Despite his success in the commercial world, Paul is proudest of his contribution to the community:

Numerous civic and charitable programs benefit from Hillard’s commitment to the community. The Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette has received state, regional and national awards for architectural design and function. He serves on the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. In 1997, Paul and the late Mrs. Hilliard established the Badger Excellence in Education Foundation, which promotes reading in several of the community’s at-risk elementary schools.

Paul Hilliard exemplifies the American Dream. Let’s fight to make sure that dream stays alive for future generations.