Former HUD Secretary, U.S. Trade Representative gives Simon Lecture, receives honors

By Cynthia Price
Legal News
When President Gerald R. Ford appointed Carla Anderson Hills as Secretary of the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1975, she was only the third woman to serve at the cabinet level in United States history.
Though she had already served as the Assistant U.S. Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division at the Department of Justice, and though her time as HUD Secretary was brief (ending in 1977), her time on the cabinet was an important step io a distinguished public service career.

Hills (shown at left) was the U.S. Trade Representative from 1989 to 1993, under President George H.W. Bush, which eminently qualified her to give the William E. Simon Lecture in Public Affairs last Thursday on “Why Trade Matters.”

A spirited defense of trade agreements and their capacity to improve the lot of people globally, her talk was given to a nearly full house in the auditorium of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

The William E. Simon Lecture resulted from a gift to the Ford Presidential Foundation from the former Secretary of the Treasury during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Simon himself gave the first lecture in 1988, and he has been followed by such luminaries as Carlos Salinas de Gortari, President of Mexico; former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; long-time Chair of the Federal Reserve Alan
Greenspan; U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens; and historians Richard Norton Smith and Jon Meacham.

The 83-year-old Hills has a broad and deep background in trade, including expertise in antitrust law when she was, briefly, a professor at University of California Los Angeles Law School and co-wrote Antitrust Adviser.

During her tenure as U.S. Trade Representative, Hills was the primary negotiator on behalf of the United States of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). For that, she was given the highest honor for non-citizens by the Mexican government, the Order of the Aztec Eagle, in 2000.

A Los Angeles native, Hills attended Oxford University’s St. Hilda’s College, received her bachelors degree from Stanford University, and got her J.D. from Yale Law School. 

She currently serves as CEO of Hills & Company International Consultants, which advises international firms on foreign trade and investment, and offers her expertise to boards of both for-profit and non-profit organizations.

She was a member of the Task Force on the Future of North America, which produced a somewhat controversial report in 2005, Building a North American Community, which was sponsored by the Council of Foreign Relations, of which Hills is Chairman Emeritus. The report advocated for stronger trade ties between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Her many honors include, humorously, being named on one of the cards in the “Supersisters” trading card set in 1979, honoring women role models.

In answer to a question at the lecture, Hills said she believes that there is no stopping the progress women are making in attaining high levels of achievement. “I was one of only seven women in my class of 177 at Yale, so I’ve seen great progress. I think that will continue
because we have a lot of great women in this country,” she said.

She also mentioned in a few of her responses that she felt that her administration’s Community Block Grant program was a brilliant idea, coming from President Ford. “You don’t do the same things in Newark as you do in Phoenix, Arizona,” she said. “It should be left up to the communities to figure out how they want to use HUD money.”

After the lecture, Gleaves Whitney, Director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University, joined Grand Valley trustees David S. Hooker and John C Kennedy (chair) in presenting Hills with the COL Ralph W. Hauenstein Fellowship.

Established in 2010 as part of Grand Valley State’s fiftieth anniversary, the fellowship’s first recipient was Gerald R. Ford himself, posthumously.

Then, in a bit of a surprise, Ford Presidential Foundation Vice-Chair Hank Meijer, co-chairman of Meijer, Inc., announced that the foundation was starting a tradition by presenting a smaller casting of the statue unveiled last year aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford to Simon lecturers. It depicts President Ford when he was a lieutenant commander during World War II.

The first statue, as unveiled by President Ford’s daughter Susan R. Bales (who also unveiled the original), is about one foot tall and true-to-life in detail. Ambassador Hills appeared delighted to be the inaugural recipient of the commemorative statuette.