It is with sadness that we announce the passing of Barron Hilton, who died at the age of 91 at his home in Los Angeles on September 19, 2019.

Barron Hilton, accompanied by his son, Steven M. Hilton, at his last board meeting at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in 2014.
Barron Hilton, accompanied by his son, Steven M. Hilton, at his last board meeting of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in 2014.

We remember with affection his entrepreneurial spirit, optimism and generosity. He will long serve as an inspiration to his many friends and to succeeding generations of the Hilton family.

Successful entrepreneur

Barron Hilton grew up in the hotel business, beginning his career parking cars for guests at the Town House in Los Angeles, and eventually succeeding his father, Conrad N. Hilton, as the president and CEO and later as chairman of the board of the Hilton Hotels Corporation. Over his lifetime, Barron Hilton also founded a number of successful business ventures of his own. He purchased the Los Angeles distributorship for Vita-Pakt Citrus Products and founded McDonald Oil Co., Air Finance Corporation, the Carte Blanche Credit Card and the Chargers of the American Football League.

Loving husband, father, grandfather

Barron married his high school sweetheart, Marilyn Hawley, in 1947. Together they had eight children who were shaped by the family’s legacy of generosity.

Generous philanthropist

Following in the footsteps of his father, who founded the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and bequeathed 97% of his estate to the Foundation, Barron Hilton continued a family tradition of charitable giving. Over the years, Hilton has provided many millions of his own money in personal gifts and pledges to several of the programs supported by the Foundation.

In 2007, he signed the Giving Pledge, announcing his plans to leave 97% of his own estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation upon his passing. His contribution surpasses the initial amount left to the Foundation by Conrad Hilton, which makes Barron Hilton the most significant donor. With the addition of the Barron Hilton estate, the Foundation endowment is projected to increase to $6.3 billion.

Passionate sportsman

A lifelong avid sportsman, Hilton’s retirement allowed him more time for these passions, and he continued to spend weekends with his friends flying, fishing and hunting up and down the West Coast.

Aviation remained his favorite hobby, maintaining a rating to fly single-engine and multi-engine aircraft, plus lighter-than-air balloons and helicopters, until he retired from the cockpit in 2012 at age 84. From 1980 to 2009, he also hosted the Barron Hilton Cup, the world’s largest glider competition. And he was honored in 2010 by the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, which christened the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery. The redesigned exhibit recognizes aviators like Lindbergh, Earhart and the Tuskegee Airmen. The gallery includes an early childhood education program funded by the Hilton Foundation to help young people find the same enthusiasm for aviation that he discovered as a child when Lindbergh and Earhart were making headlines.

A family legacy

The philanthropic spirit of Hilton family members continues to be cultivated through the Foundation’s Generations in Giving program, which prepares successive generations for board service. The Board of Directors seeks to ensure that direct descendants of Conrad Hilton represent a majority of the board. Barron Hilton served as chairman of the board from 2007 to 2012 and remained a member until 2015. His son, Steven M. Hilton, joined the Foundation staff in 1983, and he was named president in 1998 and CEO in 2005. In 2015, Steven stepped down from these roles and remains involved as chairman of the board. Current family members serving on the board include Conrad N. Hilton III, Hawley Hilton McAuliffe, Linda Hilton, Michael O. Hilton and Justin McAuliffe.

Conrad N. Hilton with his sons, Barron (Left) and Nick (Right).

During his tenure as president and CEO, Steven M. Hilton and the board of directors led the Foundation to pursue deeper, field-specific expertise. Barron Hilton’s mentorship strengthened this direction, and the Foundation’s impact increased through active pursuit of partnerships with grantees, governments, corporations, and other foundations and funders.