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

Gary Hilliard FTA Hall of Fame childhoodPersonal Path & Pursuits

Born in Pennsylvania on Feb. 24, 1952, Gary’s parents, Glenn and Carmela, moved the family to Owensboro, KY, when Gary Hilliard was still a small boy. There, he was raised with sisters Denise and Sally. Eventually he moved to Louisville, then on to Detroit in the 1970s and the Minneapolis, St. Paul Twin Cities area in the 1980s.

While some people may know that Gary loved music his entire life, few realize that he played both the organ and drums in a garage band in high school. Ellen said, “He loved air guitar and was the best air guitarist that I and others aware of his talent, had ever seen.”

Beyond music, “Gary came to love the game of golf, though it often frustrated him,” Ellen continued. “He expected to make a breakthough at any moment.” Handy around the house, he was also an avid reader, who loved getting away from it all—in the pages of a book and on the sands of a Caribbean locale, beach in Mexico, or almost anywhere else his travels with Ellen took them. A sun-soaked beach was a definite favorite escape.

Gary Hilliard FTA Hall of Fame teenagerDescribed by his wife as, “A great cook and grill master,” Gary would never try a recipe on company until he tried it first,“ Ellen reported. “He was also famous for his ribs and Italian specialties.”

“Gary’s culinary side saw him develop an interest in hot and spicy foods,” Ellen remembered. “Often when working on tests of new products with Kent Shaw of Color Converting Inks (CCI), Gary and Kent would engage in a competition to determine who could eat the hottest food.”

Flexographer & Friend

Ellen listed Kent as one of Gary’s mentors. Others included, “Tony Bart, Bob Mullen, Bob Davison, Joe Tuccitto, Paul Lancelle and John Comer, who gave Gary a start into graphics. We both were always in awe of industry icons—Ron Harper, etc.“

Mark Miller, printing supervisor, Anagram International, Amscan, Inc., Eden Prairie, MN, considers Gary a mentor. “Gary hired me at Anagram. I was a pressman and he was the plant manager. I worked every day with him, side-by-side for more than three years. I learned a lot from Gary, especially about plates. He really knew everything there was to know about flexo.

“As a boss, Gary made it known that he was always willing to help, to offer an immediate answer to a question, or if necessary, search out the answer,” Miller observed. “To me, he was teacher, mentor and friend. We kept in touch over the years, met often at Twin Cities Flexo Association and FTA events and always took time to catch up.”

Jeff Aker, print technology manager, SGS, Brooklyn Park, MN, also counted himself among those touched by Gary’s tender nature and tenacity. “I had the pleasure of working with Gary for 16 years. Gary’s had two great passions, the first being vacations with Ellen. Gary and Ellen traveled the world together. I always enjoyed listening to Gary’s vacation plans, and even more to hear about them when he got back, tanned and beaming a big smile. Listening to him, I could almost see that sunset, the view of the fairway from the tee box, or smell the aroma from a fine meal.Gary Hilliard FTA Hall of Fame Ellen

“Gary’s second passion was being a flexographer,” Aker declared. “Gary loved technology, and was often one of the first ones to test new technology. He was a great partner to work with on beta testing. Gary had a knack for filtering through new technology and making it work in a real world production environment.”

Aker further reminisced, “Gary also had a strong commitment to quality, doing things the right way with no short cuts. In fact, his commitment to quality was contagious. Gary’s commitment to quality was a profound influence, especially on younger people new to the trade. He was committed to consistent and quality packaging for his customers.

“One of the special things that I really enjoyed about Gary, when we had jobs that really looked good or had something really challenging, he would save samples to share. Gary wanted to make sure everyone felt the joy of success and the satisfaction of a job well done,” Aker commented.

Like others, Aker said, “Gary was dedicated in his service to the industry through the FTA—both as a technical resource and in numerous leadership positions. I’m very grateful for the countless hours Gary spent on the organization’s behalf.”

“Ed Dedman, Graymills, a colleague from the local area, similarly offered, “Gary was a wonderful friend to the flexo industry, as well as simply a man of integrity and honor. Our world doesn’t have nearly enough people like Gary.”