Born 14 January 1942 during WWII in Haarlem, the Netherlands, Gerarda Margaretha Willemse was the youngest of four daughters. She died age 72 at home in Columbia, MO on 30 August 2014 due to complications related to PSP and CBGD. It is planned that she will be buried in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where her husband was born. Her most endearing trait was her selfless personality, always wanting to give to others preferential treatment. She was honored as a beauty queen in Holland when growing up, and everyone noted that she could always smile with her eyes. No service is planned at this time. The family requests no flowers, but contributions can be made in her name to the Alzheimer's Association, Greater Missouri chapter, 2400 Bluff Creek, Columbia, MO, which is a related disease.
Her mother, Angela Jeanette Alphonse van Aalst, was from Hulst, Zeeland in the south of Holland, coming from a long family line of artistic hand-craftsmen, painters and coppersmiths. Her father, Jan Willemse, was descended from a line of wagon-makers, fishermen, farmers and dike operators in Spaarndam in the north of Holland. Here there is a statue on the dike of the famous-in-Dutch-lore little boy, Hans Brinker, who plugged the hole in the dike at this site with his thumb.
During the German occupation of Holland in WWII and especially during the winter of 1944-1945, when the western provinces of the Netherlands were not yet liberated, as the southern provinces had been months earlier, her father had to work very hard to find enough food for the family. Immediately after the war at age 3 to 4, Gerarda was sent to an Allied food camp so that she could recover her health. She had severe vitamin malnutrition and rickets. Gerarda learned four languages. Dutch in the home and school, plus English, French and German in school. Building on these talents and her beauty as a young woman, she was selected to represent her town of Haarlem and country Holland for its world-renown flower festival. She traveled as a representative to other European countries during the early 1960s fulfilling these duties.
Gerarda was always interested in travel and as a result she worked in Geneva, Switzerland; Paris, France; and Amsterdam, Holland before coming to the US in 1967 to work in Princeton, NJ, where she met her husband to be, who was a Ph.D. student at Princeton University. They were married back in Haarlem, Holland on 22 August 1969. They then lived in Princeton again, Tehran, Iran; Kabul, Afghanistan; Buffalo, NY; Atlanta, GA; Pittsburgh, PA; Houston, TX; and San Francisco, CA each for a few years as her husband worked as a consultant for the U.S. government and then major oil companies. Then they moved to Dhahran in Saudi Arabia for 17 years. When they retired back to the U.S., they moved to Columbia, MO in 2004.
Gerarda always enjoyed exploring the byways of the world, the customs of the people in the souks and bazaars of the developing world, and the art and architecture found in the main cities of the world. Gerarda has always been interested in the arts and literature. She was a voracious reader, a member of many book clubs, and a scholar of the areas where she lived, collecting many historically important books. In addition she has sewn many very elaborate embroidered pieces that are framed and displayed. She also collected antique maps of places that were of family interest and genealogical importance.
She was always kind to other people and never spoke ill of others. She worked very hard to raise her children to be good citizens of the world and be well educated. People always raved about her friendly disposition and care for others, and at times she even volunteered as a personal care giver.
During her last decade in Saudi Arabia, Gerarda worked in the Saudi Aramco Heritage Gallery, a company museum that traced the early history with pictures and anthropological artifacts of both the largest oil company in the world and of Saudi Arabia. She planned many important exhibits and was a driving force in developing this gallery into growing world renown. She was the senior docent there for many years, and built up quite a reputation among international VIP visitors as a most interesting lecturer.
Gerarda is survived by her husband Robert Nelson Hill (b. 1944) living in Columbia, MO. Her two sons are Robert Jan Willem Hill (b. 1972 in Princeton, NJ) (Anne) living in St. Louis, MO; and Alexander William James Hill (b. 1974 in Kabul, Afghanistan) living in Wheaton/Chicago IL; and her older sister Marthina Maria (Willemse) Dennert of Curacao, Netherlands Antilles (b. 1935). She has two grandchildren in St. Louis: Charles James Willemse Hill (b. 2006) and Jane Emily Holland Hill (b. 2008). Her mother and father died in Holland in 1975 and 1990 respectively. Also two sisters have predeceased her in Holland: Neeltje Gerarda Willemse (d. 1934) as an infant age 1, and her oldest sister Melanie Josina Willemse (d. 2006) age 75.