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Robert Hillen, 86; Coached Crew at USC for 43 Years

March 23, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Robert Hillen, who founded the crew program at USC in 1947 and coached its team for 43 years, has died. He was 86.

In failing health for several months as he battled Parkinson's disease, Hillen died March 16 in a Los Angeles hospital.

Born in Goldfield, Nev., he was raised in Sacramento and attended Sacramento Junior College, where he was first introduced to the sport of crew. He transferred to UCLA in 1936, where he lettered as a coxswain.

After graduating from UCLA with a bachelor's degree in education, Hillen coached local high school and junior college teams in Sacramento. He returned to UCLA as an assistant coach in 1940, before becoming co-head coach in 1946.

A year later, Julian Wolf, a former UCLA oarsman who was attending USC graduate school, appealed to Hillen for help in setting up a crew program for the Trojans. Hillen went to USC on a part-time basis a year later as the school's coach.

Hillen, who earned his master's degree in education at USC and made his living as a physical education coach in the Santa Monica School District, coached the Trojans without pay from 1948 to 1965. He helped the school build its boathouse in the Los Angeles harbor in 1961, and began coaching the women's team in the mid-1970s.

While at USC, he coached Conn Findlay, who went on to compete in three Olympics, winning the gold in Melbourne in 1956 and bronze medals in Rome in 1960 and in Tokyo in 1964.

Well-respected in the sport, Hillen was a member of the U.S. Olympic Rowing Committee and the Board of Directors of the National Assn. of American Oarsmen. He helped coach the U.S. team at the 1971 Pan-American Games. At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, he was on the site selection committee.

Hillen is survived by his wife, Charleene; his son, Peter; and two grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Thursday at St. Augustine Catholic Church, 10195 Washington Blvd., Culver City. The family suggests that donations be made to the USC Andrus Gerontology Center.

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