TUPELO • As he was being honored as the Junior Auxiliary of Tupelo’s Outstanding Citizen of the year, “humble” was the word Dr. Bill Hilbun used to describe his lifetime of work advocating for children and medical care for those in need.
2020-21 Junior Auxiliary President Gwen Cordell highlighted Hilbun’s commitment to the betterment of his community through his work as a pediatrician for over 55 years in Tupelo, as well as his service abroad in Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Honduras, Ecuador, Argentina and Peru.
“In a year highlighted by the courage and compassion of our medical community, I cannot imagine a more qualified recipient of the 2021 Outstanding Citizen Award, than Dr. Bill Hilbun – a true physician,” Cordell said in her speech, livestreamed Friday night on several of the organization’s social media pages.
A Centreville native who grew up in Gloster, Hilbun attended college at Tulane University and medical school at the University of Mississippi in Jackson. Hilbun considered himself blessed to go to medical school, so felt he needed to use his talents to work with children, completing a residency in pediatrics.
He and his wife, Lucy, always shared a passion for medical missions. After starting private practice in Amory until 1971, he spent a year in Nigeria as the Special Project Pediatrician with the Baptist International Mission Board. He came to Tupelo in 1977, eventually stretching his services locally to CATCH Kids, Global Outreach, the Tree of Life Clinic, CASA, Helping Hands Food Pantry, the Mississippi Chapter of Kids Count, the Lee County Library. He’s also an active church member, serving as a former deacon at First Baptist Church in Amory, First Baptist Church in Meridan and Calvary Baptist Church in Tupelo, and a current member of the First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo.
“Anything that I’ve done has just given me an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ,” Hilbun said. “I’m so concerned for people who don’t have medical care. That’s why I’ve gotten such pleasure with working at the Tree of Life, to be able to serve those people who are not able to be served elsewhere for financial reasons.”
Dr. Joe Bailey nominated Hilbun for representing “the very best of human characteristics – compassion, kindness, modesty, and reverence,” he wrote in his nomination.
“When there is a need, you will find Bill Hilbun,” Bailey wrote in his nomination. “Bill Hilbun has spent his entire life in service to those around us, and throughout the world, who are less fortunate.”
Many wrote letters in support, calling Hilbun a humble servant. Junior Auxiliary associate representative Carley Johnson called him kind and compassionate. Aside from inspiring other physicians, he is also remembered for simply being a good man.
Cordell’s speech described an anecdote from neighbor Martha Hollingston, who remembers Hilburn saving her husband’s life as a doctor and then continued the service as a neighbor by watering their flowers and mowing their lawn.
“It’s an example for all of us to follow,” Johnston said. “There’s so many who need help, so there’s always going to be that great need, and we’re going to continue, every year, to need more people to dedicate their lives like he did.”
Hilbun considers the award a team effort and said he’s been able to do what he does because of all the people who stood by him, such as his wife, children and everyone who’s been involved with his work. During his years practicing, he enjoyed seeing the kids he’d taken care of grow up and bring their own children, and in some cases, grandchildren, to see him.
“I hope that I’ll just be remembered as a caring physician who tried to show Christian love to all people and especially to kids,” Hilbun said. “I was blessed to be able to take care of the finest kids in the world.”