Popular business school professor loses three-year battle with cancer

Raymond L. Hilgert, D.B.A., Emeritus Professor of Management and Industrial Relations at Washington University’s John M. Olin School of Business, died Saturday, August 23, 2003 at St. Luke’s Hospital after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 73 and lived in Kirkwood.

Hilgert, an award-winning teacher, author, labor arbitrator, nationally-recognized media commentator, and business ethicist, taught at the University from 1961 to 2001.

Ray Hilgert

During four decades at the University, Hilgert served as a mainstay in the business school’s personnel management and labor relations programs, while tirelessly championing the importance of business ethics. Known for the attention and concern he showered on students, Hilgert was outspoken in his concern that leading business schools not allow faculty research to overshadow the importance of classroom education.

“Professor Hilgert was an outspoken voice advocating for the centrality of teaching at the University,” said Olin Dean Stuart Greenbaum. “His uncompromising concern for students and their learning experience helped shape the caring culture of the Olin School and Washington University. He was an institution within an institution. His clarion call will be missed.”

By his own reckoning, Hilgert taught some 8,800 business students during his tenure at the Washington University business school. Students who voted four times to name him Teacher of the Year recognized his efforts in the classroom.

Arthur E. Carlson, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Accounting at the business school, said that Hilgert put teaching and his students first. “He was a master teacher and he thought that teaching was more important than anything else. Ray felt that if a professor spent all his time just doing research, you weren’t doing your students justice, but he was also a tremendous researcher. He did the best job of anyone I knew balancing the two.”

Raymond L. Hilgert grew up in St. Louis and graduated in 1948 from Southwest High School on Kingshighway Boulevard and Arsenal Street. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics, magna cum laude, from Westminster College, and Master of Science in Business Administration and Doctor of Business Administration degrees from Washington University. He also attended graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles. Hilgert served in the United States Air Force as an Air Weather Officer from 1952 to 1956, achieving the rank of 1st Lieutenant.

From 1956 to 1960 he served in management positions at Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., and in market research at Gardner Advertising. He was inducted into the Small Business Hall of Fame and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the St. Louis District last year.

As a Certified Labor Arbitrator, Hilgert helped settle many area labor disputes spanning decades. He was the co-author of Cases in Collective Bargaining and Industrial Relations: A Decisional Approach, which was published in its 9th edition in 1999 by McGraw-Hill. Hilgert published more than 90 articles in human resources and business journals and was the co-author of six books.

Hilgert was active in his church and this year was awarded the Christus Vivit Award by Concordia Seminary, granted each year to laity who exemplify a lifetime of distinguished and dedicated service in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Concordia Publishing House published his most recent title, Christian Ethics in the Workplace, in 2001.

Among survivors are his wife, Bernice, three children and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for 7 p.m. Sept. 5 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 12345 Manchester Road in Des Peres. Memorial contributions may be sent to the student aid fund at Lutheran High School South, 9515 Tesson Ferry Road, St. Louis, Mo. 63123.

In an article published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch upon Professor Hilgert’s retirement from the business school, former students explained the impact he had on their lives and careers. It is reprinted here by permission: Ray Hilgert Leaves Legacy of Learning at Washington U”(July 22, 2001).