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Sunday, June 4, 2023

Academics & Research

College of Hotel and Restaurant Management fondly remembers Eric Hilton

Eric Hilton was 83 years old. | Courtesy of Caitlin Hilton

Eric Hilton, son of the Conrad H. Hilton College’s namesake, passed away Dec. 10. He was instrumental to the creation of the college, and the restuarant in the hotel is named after him.

“Without Eric Hilton there would be no Hilton college,” said Hilton College historian Mark Young. “It was because of him that the program was established and built.”

The story of how the college came to be was constantly retold by Hilton.  It began when founding dean James Taylor proposed the idea of building a hospitality school at UH and asked if Hilton’s father would be willing to help fund the school.  

Hilton liked the idea, but suggested that Taylor build on it. A year later Taylor presented a clear plan of action to Hilton’s father. Conrad Hilton liked the idea and gave Taylor $1.5 million to help establish the school back in 1969.

“Eric could have easily turned Taylor away, but because he didn’t, the college was built,” Young said.

Young said that the college was Hilton’s pride and joy, and that right until the end he wanted to know how the college was improving.

“He wanted our college to be the top in nation,” Young said. “And by most metrics, we are always in the top three in the country. He always took pride in that.”

Those who knew Eric remarked at how hard-working, yet humble he was, and said that he loved to meet new people and share stories with them.

“He loved to tell stories, he cared for everyone and he taught me to always work as hard as I can and that any setbacks were all just a part of success,” said Hilton’s granddaughter Caitlin Hilton, a graduate of UH. “He said that you have to always strive for greatness.”

In addition to his skills as a businessman, Hilton is also remembered for his work as a philanthropist by his contributions to the Hilton Foundation and his establishment of Three Square, a food bank in Southern Nevada.

Julia Friedman, who spoke on behalf of the Hilton foundation, said that he played a huge role in his family’s business, but also keeping the Hilton name respected in business.

“He once said, ‘I had to work twice as hard to prove myself so no one could say I got a position because of my name,’” Friedman said. “He created opportunities for people both in the hospitality industry and the nonprofit sector. Through his hands-on efforts, he modeled set an example of what one inspired person can accomplish. He lived a very fulfilling life.”

One year when the students were hosting the college’s Gourmet Night, an event where students plan and prepare meals around a theme, he paid for their hotel room in New Orleans and brought in the hotel’s food and beverage director to show them how to successfully create New Orleans–themed dishes.

Young said that Hilton treated everyone well, was interested in what they did and always remembered the people he met.

“I only saw him when he visited the campus, but he always remembered my name and remembered what I did which would always surprise me,” Young said.  But I feel like I can talk about him because I saw him in action.  He loved people and he loved the college.  That’s why we named the restaurant at the hotel Eric’s, because without Eric there would be no college.”

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