For nearly 72 years of marriage, Lewis and Sarah Hilton ran a farm together in Bulloch County, Georgia, raised a large family, and cared for a small Avondale Church in what is now the mega-church, Forest Park.
Their kids say Lewis and Sarah are inseparable and a dynamic team. Mr Hilton in particular was unhappy when they were forced to live apart due to serious health problems in recent months.
Surrounded by family members and with his wife by his side, Mr. Hilton died on November 23rd, Thanksgiving Day, at the Maple Knoll Village Rehabilitation Center in Springdale. He had suffered a stroke a few years ago and had been hospitalized with complications since August. He had celebrated his 92nd birthday the day before.
Then, on Sunday morning, November 26th, three days after her husband died, Ms. Hilton drove to church with her daughter and granddaughter. Mrs. Hilton had been vigilant and said she was fine. Then she had a heart attack and passed out. She had her first heart attack on August 22nd, just 11 days after her husband was hospitalized.
CPR was performed in the church. She was given life support but died the next day, November 27, at Mercy Health Hospital in Fairfield. She was 90 years old.
“We are so proud of our parents,” said their oldest son, Lewis Hilton Jr., better known as Bishop Bobby Hilton, senior pastor of Word of Deliverance Ministries for the World in Forest Park.
“We are sad that they left us together. But after almost 72 years of marriage, we are grateful.”
A joint funeral will take place on Monday, December 4th, at 6 p.m. at Word of Deliverance. The Hiltons will be buried in Springdale’s Landmark Memorial Gardens at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.
Bishop Hilton Jr. will not preside. “I am their pastor,” he said. “This week I just want to be her son.”
In 1990, Bishop Hilton Jr. became the senior pastor of the Apostolic Liberation Church.
His father and mother started the Church in 1970 in a house on Hearne Avenue, Avondale. Elder Hilton Sr. was soon ordained a bishop and served as bishop in the Northwest Diocese of the Born Again Church of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Hilton Sr. and his wife first met shortly after the Hilton family moved from South Carolina to Statesboro, Georgia. He had to leave school to help his father farm before graduation.
He married Statesboro-born Ms. Hilton on January 12, 1946.
They ran a farm and grew tobacco and cotton. In 1956 they moved to Cincinnati with their family, which at the time had two daughters. The Hiltons soon settled in Lincoln Heights and later moved to Silverton before settling in Forest Park. They had five children.
Prior to joining the Department, Mr. Hilton began a 28-year career with Cincinnati Milling Machine, later called Cincinnati Milacron, in Oakley.
Their children remember Mr. Hilton as “a loyal, hardworking man who took excellent care of his family. There was never a day that he did not work full-time until he retired from Cincinnati Milacron.”
Her mother ran the household. They took care of foster children. “She made sure that home-cooked meals were warm and ready every night when her husband came home,” her children recall. Their parents’ steadfastness and loving marriage and togetherness created a strong sense of security, they said.
Just as their lives came to an end, Lewis and Sarah were together.
Upon his discharge from the hospital, Lewis Sr. was sent to Maple Knoll. After her release, Sarah was also sent to Maple Knoll. They had adjoining private rooms. Soon Ms. Hilton was released and went home. She would visit her husband as often as she could.
His mood lifted considerably when she entered the room. “Here comes my baby,” he would say. “How are you baby?”
A few months later, just four days apart, they would die.
“We think mom has made up her mind,” said Bobby Hilton. “She was ready to see Jesus and knew that her husband would be waiting for her there.”
The American Heart Association and some researchers say it is not uncommon for older couples to die within hours or days of each other. Broken Heart Syndrome is known medically as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, or abnormal heart muscle that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood and deliver it to the rest of the body.
“Women are more likely than men to experience sudden, intense chest pain – the response to a surge in stress hormones – that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event,” according to the American Heart Association.
The Hiltons are survived by daughters Martha Mae Dillingham and Angela Hilton of Pleasant Run and LeBertha Southall of Forest Park, sons Lewis “Bobby” Hilton of Amberley Village and John Hilton of Pleasant Ridge, 16 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. Great-great-grandchildren.
The tour is on Monday, December 4, at 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Word of Deliverance Family Life Center, 693 Fresno Drive, Forest Park. The funeral will follow at 6 p.m.
A scholarship fund is being set up, but details have not yet been finalized.
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