Gil Hill remembered as passionate defender of Detroit

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
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Detroit — Former City Council president and longtime cop Gil Hill was remembered Saturday not so much for playing the sharp-tongued police inspector in three “Beverly Hills Cop” movies but as a man who had a penchant for Detroit and helping others.

Hill, 84, who died Feb. 29, was recalled fondly by many of his former colleagues in city politics and the police force — from which he retired in 1989 as a commander — as passionate with high expectations who endeared himself to those around him.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon recalled when he first met Hill as a rookie cop in 1975 when he worked the homicide desk. He said Hill, after reviewing his paperwork for his first homicide “seemed like he read that report forever,” and then said, “’Young man, you might make a decent police officer.’”

“He knew more about death than anybody I know,” Napoleon said of Hill,who ran the department’s homicide division when the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies were made in the 1980s. “He also knew more about life.”

Mourners at St. Philip Evangelical Lutheran Church on East Grand Boulevard included some of the elite of city politics —Napoleon, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, as well as police officials and those who worked for the City Council.

They all spoke of Hill as a comedic but dedicated public servant proud to be from Detroit, never giving up his roots or humility even after going on to Hollywood fame.

“He was a funny, funny guy,” said former mayor and council president Kenneth Cockrel Jr. “He had a great sense of humor.”

Cockrel, who served one-term with Hill, said that after the success of the “Beverly Hills Cop” movies he was surprised that Hill didn’t pursue an acting career after that world saw Hill’s character, Inspector Douglas Todd spar with Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley because “he was that good and he was that funny.”

“At the end of the day, Hollywood’s loss was the city of Detroit’s gain,” Cockrel said to applause. “Gil was a great leader and he was great to work with.”

The Rev. Nicholas Hood, who served on the council with Hill, said they accomplished many things while serving including bringing the three casinos to Detroit. But he was most moved by his faith in God, telling a story about how when Hood used to pray before his staff meetings and Hill joined them.

“I said, I didn’t know you prayed,” said Hood of Hill, who then retorted, “Look man, I’m a proud member of St. Philips, I’ve been praying before you were born.”

Murphy did not attend the funeral but a family spokesman said Hill’s relatives did receive a private condolence letter from the actor.

Before the service, Hill’s black with charcoal gray tint casket was guarded by two Detroit police officers as mourners walked past. His name was inscribed at the middle bottom of the casket.

Hill was elected to the City Council in 1989 and won the president’s seat with the largest number of votes in the 1997 campaign.

Hill narrowly lost a close contest for mayor in 2001 against Kwame Kilpatrick and then lost his council seat in the 2003 election. Before losing the mayor’s race, Hill told The News that “the only thing that’s saved me through the years is the fact that I’ve been grounded.”

Hill was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and attended Cardoza High School in Washington D.C. and in 1953, moved to Detroit after serving in the Air Force and joined the police academy.

His wife of 60 years, Delores, passed away in September. He recently became a great grandfather.

(313) 222-2620

Twitter: @leonardnfleming

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