It’s only recently that Kristi Noem became the first woman to serve as the governor of South Dakota, after she was elected in 2018. Carole Hillard was another woman to hold a “first” in the world of South Dakota politics, becoming the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor. “First and foremost, however, she considered herself an advocate for humanitarian causes,” Patricia A. Edman writes in an article about Hillard in Vol. 39, No. 3 issue of “South Dakota History.”
Hillard was born on Aug. 14, 1936, in Deadwood. Edman writes, “She learned business and political skills from her father, who owned an automobile dealership and served as mayor of Deadwood.” After graduating with a degree in education from the University of Arizona, she married John Hillard, who had served in World War II and was a teacher. The couple moved to the Black Hills, raising five children and operating a car dealership for more than 20 years.
Hillard earned a master’s degree in education from South Dakota State University in 1982, as well as a master’s degree in political science from the University of South Dakota in 1984, Edman describes. Hillard was active in the community, serving on various boards, including the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, Children’s Home Society and Rapid City Common Council, becoming its first woman president. “Following an appointment to the State Board of Charities and Corrections, she won election to the South Dakota House of Representatives in 1990,” Edman writes. “She served until 1994, when she was elected to the first of two terms as lieutenant governor in the administration of William J. Janklow.”
Hillard also continued to serve humanitarian causes, acting as an election monitor in Bosinia in 1997, shortly after the end of the war there, through the Peace Corps. “She went on to work in more than sixty countries for the Peace Corps and other organizations such as Heifer International, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute,” Edman writes.
“Hillard became known as ‘Carole the Intrepid’ for her willingness to go to perilous or extremely poor areas, including Afghanistan. She bungee-jumped in Zimbabwe, went hang gliding in Brazil, and caught a piranha on the Amazon River,” Edman writes.
Even her death reflected her intrepid nature. Hillard died on Oct. 25, 2007, in Lausanne, Switzerland, following complications from a fall from some steps on a boat in the Adriatic Sea. “In her final e-mail to her children, she acknowledged the irony of the accident,” Edman writes. “‘So the question is,’ Hillard wrote, ‘are we not safer living the daring life?’”
Hillard was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame, in the general category, in 2007. The biography on the hall of fame website begins, “Philanthropic, compassionate, and adventurous are just a few words that describe South Dakota’s first and only female lieutenant-governor. … Carole Hillard dedicated her life to making a difference in her community. She helped establish the Rapid City women’s shelter and the Cornerstone Rescue Mission. During the last years of her life she went on to work as an international consultant for the U.S. State Department and other organizations around the world. She traveled to 63 countries working on 72 democracy-building projects in developing-nations.”
The website quotes her son, Todd, stating this about his mother: “She understood the risks of traveling to some remote regions. She was not afraid of dying. She was afraid of not living. … Her life taught us that one person can make a big difference in the world and that each of us has a responsibility to make the world a better place.”
The website describes that during her life, Hillard became a private pilot, a licensed scuba diver, and a skilled skier and horsewoman. She tracked mountain gorillas in Uganda, sky dived with U.S. Air Force Golden Knights, flew in an F-16 fighter jet with the South Dakota Air National Guard, and became a certified Red Cross disaster damage assessment team leader.
“Carole Hillard is an example of what one adventurous person can accomplish in a lifetime, with devotion and compassion for helping others and a determination to make a difference in the world,” the hall of fame biography states.
“Carole the Intrepid,” indeed.
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