Gary Hilliard, a Future-Focused Flexographer, Elected to FTA Hall of Fame

“Give me a building and printing press and I’ll show them what I can do!Gary Hilliard FTA Hall of Fame

  • Test new products…
  • Evaluate new ideas…
  • Adapt concepts from manufacturing sectors and other print processes to flexo…”

Those goals and objectives appeared on the ideal job description that he put together for himself. Press trials excited him. Any opportunity to apply his skills and talents, side-by-side with fellow flexographers to shape the future of an industry for years to come, captivated him. That kind of drive and passion, exhibited by his commitment to research and love of cutting-edge printing technologies and packaging processes is responsible for his selection as the 51st inductee into the FTA Hall of Fame.

Gary Hilliard, past chairman of Foundation of Flexographic Technical Association’s (FFTA) Board of Trustees, worked fervently to ensure flexography became and remained packaging’s print process of choice, for nearly four decades. When he passed away, Feb. 23, 2013, it was just two days since he learned of his pending installation into flexography’s most prestigious society. He was looking forward to what was sure to be a shining moment in his career.

Gary Hilliard FTA Hall of Fame awardEllen Hilliard, Gary’s wife, recalled, “I felt great joy and pride in Gary and his achievements upon learning of his selection, I realized immediately that it was something we would have talked about for years to come. Gary has long aspired to become the recipient of the FTA President’s Award, so when I told him, ‘You got the big one—the Hall of Fame,’ he was very quiet but managed to say, ‘That’s cool.’ I told him how proud I was and I really believe he grasped what was happening.”

She continued, “Ever since I attended my first Forum in 1986 in San Francisco—when Gary was getting two print awards— I’ve loved the pomp and circumstance. In fact, I still get shivers when I hear the intros of Hall of Fame members and watch them take the stage.” Gary is now counted among them.

The FTA Experience(s) of Gary Hilliard

His fascination with flexographic printing, aligned him with FTA and carried him through a career that took him from the University of Kentucky to Hygrade Foods Corp. to Color Ad Packaging, Anagram International, Stone Container, and most recently, Hood Packaging. Hilliard held assignments that ranged from engineer to printing manager, graphics manager and technical manager.

Gary, who served as FFTA’s chairman from 2008-2010, was a two-term member of that body, as well as FTA’s board of directors, having been elected in 2005. He received FTA’s Distinguished Service Award in 2011 and the FLEXO Magazine Author’s Excellence Award in 2006.

Most recently, he chaired the Flexo Quality Consortium’s (FQC’s) Standards Working Group. Past service to FTA included stints as Wide Web Council chair, and chair of the Expanded Color Gamut Subcommittee for Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) 3rd Edition. He played an instrumental role in developing FIRST’s Design Guide and making it available in downloadable format.

Gary Hilliard FTA Hall of Fame golfing with EllenMidway through his career, Gary served as a judge in FTA’s Excellence in Flexography Awards competition, having himself engineered multiple pieces of award-winning flexographic print. On multiple occasions, he spoke at FTA events, primarily the organization’s Annual Forum, where he has chaired and co-chaired technical sessions. According to Ellen, “Gary believed it was FTA that made him a public speaker and he was always amazed that the hidden talent emerged.”

In related interests, Gary was a founding member of the Twin Cities Flexo Association and sat on its Board of Directors. He also held a seat on the Program Advisory Council of Dunwoody College of Technology’s Flexo Printing Program. And, at one time, he served as FTA’s ambassador to the Australian Flexographic Technical Association (AFTA).

Ellen reminisced on Gary’s love of the trade. “We spent hours discussing his work, his committees, his time on the FFTA board, FQC, etc. He loved to test new products and ideas that might shape the future. And, he enjoyed sharing all he learned.”Gary Hilliard FTA Hall of Fame golfing

In fact, at FTA’s Annual Forum, he did just that—from the podium and on a one-to-one level at social receptions and networking events. Gary and Ellen attended 25+ of these annual meetings of the industry as a couple. Recently, she pointed out several highlights.

“We loved them all! Each had their own personality…. Disney World’s Forum allowed us to have dinner on the streets of New York and see the Blues Brothers perform. In San Diego, in 1988, I got a hole-in-one and was famous for the week. In Louisville, in 2006, we stayed on and got to experience the Kentucky Derby—that was an awesome experience. We savored Montreal and the city’s European feel. I, myself, always spent at least one day at INFOFLEX, where I could walk around and see old friends that I met through FTA. Gary, of course was there from start to finish.”