Dora Edna Hill began life in the humblest of circumstances, the seventh of ten children born to Alexander “Sandy” Hill and Eda Zitelman in Thompsonville, Texas on Jan. 21, 1926. Out of necessity in a farming family that large, she had to be tough to survive and tough she became. Of those days she was known to point out she had one dress for summer and one for winter. The only picture of her as a little girl is outside and barefoot. During her senior year in high school her family left town and she moved in with her married, terminally ill, older sister, Beatrice, to finish high school and probably help with the children. In the spring of that year, a teacher admonishing the class to be quiet took the opportunity to slap Dora hard across the face. Instinctively, she slapped the teacher right back, walked out of the class, the school and never returned. She could not stomach an affront from anyone regardless of station.
After Beatrice’s death she followed another sister, Annabelle, to Wharton and was employed at the law office of William Cline and worked primarily with property abstracts. Frequently walking back and forth to the Wharton County courthouse, she caught the eye of Buddy Bernstein who managed his family’s department store on the square. After some due diligence on his part, he called to ask her out on a blind date. He told her that she could wait to decide if she wanted to accept until he arrived at the door. His specific instructions were to look out the window to see if she liked what she saw. Obviously and luckily for us, she did, they dated for eight or nine years, eloped to New Orleans in 1955, built a home on the Bernstein Farm and Ranch and delivered three children in rapid succession. A dutiful and loving daughter, she soon moved her parents to an existing house on the farm where they lived and farmed the remainder of their lives. She inherited her love of the land and being outside in the sunlight from her father and spent countless hours gardening in the yard.
Most likely the best athlete in the family, during their courting days, Dora played on a softball team and according to legend was a home run hitter. Never boastful about her glory days, it was Buddy who reveled in recounting her athletic prowess as Mom just smiled and shook her head. “She was always a long ball hitter.” Mom was shortstop, another sister, Margie, was on first and a good friend named Hale played second. All quite striking, they formed a femme fatale triumvirate with the oft-heard double or triple play call reverberating – Hill to Hale to Hill. She eagerly and enthusiastically supported all her children, Carol Jo, Buck and Bart, in their chosen athletic pursuit of tennis and later her grandsons Brett and Beau. Easily spending thousands of hours in the stands cheering them on, the Bernstein contingency was a conspicuous presence with the attractive woman in the wide brimmed straw hat and myriad large sunglasses seated next to her husband with a stiff leg, boots and cowboy hat. During her husband’s political run in the Democratic primary for the state legislature in the early 1960s on a pro civil rights platform she displayed her fierce loyalty. When several white women in Wharton suggested Buddy should not be so outspoken, she quickly shut them down. In fact, the word among the “ladies” around town was to not say anything about Buddy to Dora, likely out of self-preservation. They had each other’s back for 60 years until Buddy’s death in 2015.
The last 18 years of her life she battled Alzheimer’s at the ranch with the extraordinary toughness and strength she was known for. The only word she never forgot was “Buddy” and she called for him daily. Having not been able to speak or communicate at all with us for the last 15 years I believe she was sending us a message loud and clear by leaving May 10 on Mother’s Day – “I was your mother, don’t forget it.” No chance of that, Mom, you left everything on the field; our well-loved raw steel magnolia.
The family wishes to thank her caregivers for the constant and compassionate care shown to her for those many years, in particular Liz Williams. Dora is survived by her daughter Carol Jo and her husband Val Perkins, and grandson James Perkins, her son Buck and wife Vicki, and grandsons Brett and Beau, her son Bart and wife Nancy, and grandchildren Chelsea, Kacy, Blaine and Brock.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, there will be no public service.