Chances are that you may have seen him driving or walking on your neighborhood streets. You may also have spotted him in the isles of our neighborhood stores.
To grasp what Hillyer brought to each D.C. school he worked at, one has only to step into his “chill room,” the den in his modest College Park house.
One wall is covered with photos of great entertainers: Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, the Beatles, Martin Lawrence. Most are pictures that his grandfather collected when the stars passed through the Crystal Caverns (now Bohemian Caverns), the famed U Street nightclub that he owned.
Across from that wall are framed mementos, glimpses of highs from a life that many would see as otherwise ordinary. A Western Union telegram from the White House, dated June 2, 1967, informs the janitor, “Mrs. Johnson invites you to a ceremony and reception.” Hillyer was chosen to attend the event, held on the lawn of the executive mansion, on behalf of his Boy Scout troop.
According to the Post, Hillyer didn’t grow up in Northeast Washington thinking he’d be a custodian. His mother was a corrections officer and his father, a cabdriver. He wanted to be “so many things, like so many little kids,” but mostly his dreams centered on becoming an actor or radio personality. After graduating in 1973, he attended Prince George’s Community College for a semester before dropping out because of financial strains. The next year, Hillyer took a janitorial job with the Prince George’s school system and a few years later moved to the District schools, where he became a supervisor.
Let’s congratulate Ron next time we meet him around. Ron – you’re our Neighborhood hero.
I am available to speak or to help at any time. Ron H.