Helen Irene Hillman, a real estate agent with the Mrs. Condie Lamb Real Estate Agency in East Hampton for many years, died on March 26 at Southampton Hospital after a long illness. Well-known in the community, she was on the East Hampton School Board for six years and had been a member of the East Hampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force and the board of the East Hampton Day Care Center. She was 73.
Her daughter, Stephanie Thayer, described her mother as a “trailblazing African-American businesswoman” who overcame many obstacles to pave the way for minority women in real estate and other professions on the South Fork.
Nina Lamb recognized Mrs. Hillman’s personal drive and talent and convinced her to join the agency, where she developed a reputation for being highly ethical as well as professional, built an impressive clientele, and went on become manager, her daughter said. “She was a negotiating ace, completing sales worth well over a $1 million before the mid-1990s.”
Her love for her family was her driving force, Ms. Thayer said. “A divorced mother of three, she instilled a sense of responsibility and strong work ethic in her children, teaching by example.”
Born on the Fourth of July in 1940 at Southampton Hospital, Mrs. Hillman was the 9th of 13 children born to Girlie Lee Hayes and the former Jenny B. Hill. She grew up surrounded by her large and close-knit family, who remained close for the rest of their lives. She attended East Hampton schools, working in various jobs after graduation from high school. In the 1970s, she built a house on land in East Hampton deeded to her by father in an area known as “Hayesville.”
When she wasn’t working or taking part in civic life, Mrs. Hillman enjoyed gardening and sewing. She made and dressed dolls, and, for a short time, found herself with several orders. Like her mother and sisters, she also was a talented cook. For 35 years, her door was open to friends and family for meals and conversation. Before it was fashionable, she was big on recycling and composting.
All of Mrs. Hillman’s siblings, Lee Hayes, Willie Hayes, James Hayes, George Hayes, Robert Hayes, Glenn Hayes, Jenny Jones, Hester Hayes-Graham, Evelyn Carter, Eleanor Williams, Dixie Jayne Casiel, and Queen Davis-Parks, died before her, as did her parents. She is survived by her sons, Tracy Hillman of East Hampton and Rodney Hillman of Killeen, Tex., in addition to her daughter, who lives in Shinnecock Hills. Seven grandchildren survive, as do a host of nieces and nephews and her best friend, Audrey Gaines.
A funeral was held at Calvary Baptist Church in East Hampton on April 2, followed by a burial at Cedar Lawn Cemetery. A celebration of her life will be held on her birthday this summer.