Cheryl Elizabeth Hillen (b. September 12, 1959 Huntington WV- d. March 20, 2019, Durham NC)Cheryl Elizabeth Hillen, 59, passed away on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at her home in Durham, NC, where she valiantly battled brain cancer for nearly three years with the support of the remarkable medical team at Duke University's Tisch Brain Tumor Center. She was the founder and president of Project Education, a national consulting and fundraising firm advancing school choice. Cheryl was nationally known and respected for her passionate work to end the vicious cycle of generational poverty through quality K-12 education for all children.Cheryl was born in Huntington, WV on September 12, 1959. The daughter of William ("Bill") and Nancy Vincent Hillen, Cheryl was raised in St. Albans, West Virginia and graduated from St. Albans High School, where she was a top student and competitive tennis player. Cheryl was a lifelong member and supporter of Girl Scouts USA, where she gained leadership skills, a passion for female empowerment and an enduring love of the outdoors. As with all things in her life, Cheryl rose to a position of prominence in Girl Scouts and was chosen to represent her home state at the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration in Philadelphia. She was also selected to represent Girl Scouts USA at an international scouting event in India. After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor's degree in political science, Cheryl worked for U.S. Congressman Larry Hopkins of Kentucky before becoming the executive director of the National Young Republican Federation at the age of 24. Cheryl left that position to manage the 1986 U.S. Senate campaign for Linda Chavez of Maryland before joining the D.C.-based government relations firm, Valis Associates as Vice President. In 1990, Cheryl began her true life's work as an advocate for education reform, first as Director of Development at Citizens for a Sound Economy (1990 – 2000), then as Vice President at Children First America (2000 – 2004) and Director of Development at the Alliance and Advocates for School Choice (2004-2008). After founding Project Education, Cheryl teamed with AAA Scholarship Foundation where she raised funds for school choice throughout the country, ultimately funding scholarships for over one million children.A force to be reckoned with, Cheryl was known and admired for her intelligence, compassion, business acumen, rollicking sense of humor and love of Van Morrison's music. During her illustrious career, she met and worked with U.S. presidents and world business and political leaders, yet she always treated everyone she met like they were the center of her universe. Accordingly, her huge "tribe" of devoted friends and family came from every corner of the country to support her during her illness. In addition to St. Albans and Durham, Cheryl was a former resident of College Park, MD, Tolland, CT and Merritt Island, FL. She is survived by her children, Marga Franklin and William "Woody" Franklin, mother, Nancy Hillen, sisters, Cathy Hillen-Rulloda and Cindy Hillen and brother, Alex Hillen, along with a large, loving family of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. Cheryl is preceded in death by her father and her brother, William "Willy" Hillen.Her family requests memorial tributes be made to AAA Scholarship Foundation, PO Box 15719, Tampa, FL 33684-0719 in her memory and to help continue her life's work.A Celebration of Cheryl's Life will be held in St. Albans later this spring.
Published in Hartford Courant on Mar. 24, 2019.