The Rev. Bernard “Bernie” F. Hillenbrand, 93, died Oct. 5, 2018. A memorial service was held at Foundry UMC Oct. 21 with the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli officiating. The Rev. Donald Robinson gave the meditation.
Bernard Francis Hillenbrand was born May 11, 1925, in Syracuse, N.Y., into a life of poverty. He joined the Army at 18 and fought in the European theater. He was wounded twice by German mortars in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. After spending 1 ½ years recovering from his wounds, he joined the Merchant Marines. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration and a theology degree from Wesley Theological Seminary.
He came into ministry after a 25-year career with the National Association of Counties. He was ordained an Elder in 1989 and served primarily in extension ministries: as executive director of Community Ministries, and the Interfaith Conference Task Force on Drugs. In 1992 he pastored the Mt. Rainer Charge and in 1993 Cedar Lane UMC at Mt. Rainier, made up of two racially separated churches in P.G. County, which merged under his leadership. He was there until mandatory retirement in 1995.
Hillenbrand’s earlier career was as the first executive director of the National Association of Counties (NACo), where he took county government from relative obscurity to a political mainstay in Washington, D.C. He built it from one employee to 120 when he retired. In 1981, the New York Times called him “the lobbyist who put counties back on the map of politics,”
After NACo, he worked as County Adviser to HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and later Secretary Andrew Cuomo.
“He was passionate and he was hilarious and he was a phenomenal storyteller until the day he died” said NACo’s executive director Matt Chase.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Aliceann Wohlbruck.
Survivors include his four “outstanding” children, as he told the Chevy Chase Historical Society in Oct. 2015. They are “Lisa Hillenbrand, former Director of Global Marketing for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati; Laura Hillenbrand, author of “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken”; Susan Hillenbrand Avalon, a script reviewer for Columbia Pictures in Hollywood; and John Hillenbrand serving on matters of bankruptcy at the Washington National Judicial Center.”