Passing of a great environmental philanthropist

17 March 2003
ACCOUNTANT and financier Leslie Hill, who died recently at the age of 93, was a plant conservationist of remarkable vision. A self-made businessman who described himself as “adventurous financially”, Hill used his fortunes to preserve one of the country's most important botanical regions, the Succulent Karoo.

An alumnus of UCT (he graduated with a commerce degree in 1930), his many donations included endowing the Leslie Hill Chair of Plant Conservation in the Institute for Plant Conservation at UCT (established in 1992), now held by its Director, Professor Timm Hoffmann. In a recent interview with Hoffmann, Hill said he had enjoyed a lifelong association with people who loved plants, beginning with his mother, Jeanne, a keen gardener.

According to Hoffmann, Hill contributed generously to two main interests during the past two decades. His first, and little known, contribution was made via the Leslie Hill Higher Education trust.

This Trust, established in 1981, was formed for the main purpose of providing support to students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds. More than 350 students at universities, technikons and colleges have benefited from this Trust.

“The second and perhaps best-known contribution that Hill made was to a cluster of strategic initiatives that have made a lasting impact on the conservation of the flora and fauna of the fynbos and succulent Karoo biomes.

He contributed generously to the establishment of several institutions dedicated to the cultivation, research and conservation of the flora of these two internationally-recognised biodiversity 'hotspots'.”

His interest and passion for Karoo succulents stemmed from his long association with horticulturalists and taxonomists such as Harry Hall and Hilmar Luckhoff, whom he often accompanied during their collecting trips in the 1950s.

Hill also served on the Council of the Botanical Society for more than a decade and has given generously to the development of the conservatory (glasshouse) at Kirstenbosch. A section of this is called the Leslie Hill Stone Plant House and is dedicated to the cultivation of leaf succulents (mainly vygies).

“Two other important institutions established by Leslie Hill are the Leslie Hill Molecular Systematics Laboratory at the Kirstenbosch Research Centre and Leslie Hill Succulent Karoo Trust administered by WWF–SA. This cluster of initiatives will have a lasting impact on the research and conservation of the fynbos and succulent Karoo floras for decades to come.”

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