Lister Hill was the ‘statesman of health’

Lister Hill (swiped from Wikipedia)

As the aged, out-dated Lister Hill Health Center lives out its finally days on Adam Avenue, we thought it would be fitting to reflect on the center’s namesake. Once the newly constructed $13.7 million River Region Health Center opens in January, the Lister Hill clinic will shut its doors after nearly a 50-year run. The building will likely be demolished.

“Lister Hill will go into history. And the River Region will begin the new path,” Bernell Mapp, CEO of of the not-for-profit Health Services Inc., said following a ceremonial ribbon cutting held Thursday.

Naming the federally qualified health center after Hill was an appropriate tribute considering the Alabama politician was best known for his work in the field of public health. Although he apparently did not have the stomach to actually enter the medical profession — the story goes that he decided against it after observing his surgeon father remove a patient’s jawbone — but he certainly had the heart for it. Because of his devotion to advancing public health, he became known as the “statesman of health.” (Note: Joe Hubbard, Hill’s great-grandson, sent a note to say that it was not a jawbone that Hill saw his father remove. It was a patient’s gall bladder.)

Lister Hill Health Center (Advertiser file photo)

In fact, the U.S. Senator was so decorated for his work in public health that he had his 142 awards put on display at the University of Alabama in Birmingham in 1969. That was also the year Hill retired after a long political life that started at the age of 22 when he was elected president of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Despite his numerous interests and pursuits as a U.S. representative and then a senator, Hill is best known for the Hill-Burton Act of 1946 that funded the construction of medical facilities in every state and primarily in the poor and rural areas. About 9,000 clinics were built during the life of the program, which spanned nearly 30 years.

Hill (Advertiser file photo)

Sound familiar? About $11.2 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding (also known as “federal stimulus” dollars) was used to build the new health center. The city and county kicked in another $2.5 million.

Hill died in 1984 of pneumonia and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. He was 89. His great-grandson, Joe Hubbard, currently serves as a Democrat in the Alabama House of Representatives. Hill was also a Democrat.

Lister Hill Plaza

By the way, the park across from City Hall is called Lister Hill Plaza. The green space was created in 1971 as part of an investment in the infamous urban renewal. It is probably best known for its Hank Williams Sr. statue.

We will leave you with this parting thought. It’s an excerpt from an article (called ”‘Might have been president’ but for an accident of geography”) that ran in the New York Post and was then reprinted in the Montgomery Advertiser in 1959:

“The Alabama Democrat has been a leader in medical welfare legislation through both choice and limitation. The limitation is that no Southern Democrat can extend his liberalism into another field of human welfare — Negro civil rights — and still hope to be reelected. At least not till now, and probably not until Negroes are assured their full voting rights in the South.

“For years Lister Hill was the symbol of the best in Southern liberalism. He was often mentioned as one of those who “might have been President” — if he had been born above the Mason-Dixon line.”


About JillNolin

Jill Nolin is a city/county government reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. She can be reached at or follow @jillnolin.
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