First NACo ExDir Bernie Hillenbrand Dies at 93

Starting in the 1950s, Bernie Hillenbrand helped build the beginnings of our modern-day National Association of Counties, as its first full-time Executive Director. He died this week at 93, following a brief illness.

One collaboration strategy for Hillenbrand, according to the NACo website, was to bring the professional staff to a “retreat” at his farm in Washington County, Maryland.

Hillenbrand was a 1951 alumnus of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, a top-ranked policy and public management program where he received his Master of Public Administration degree.

From the NACo County News:

Working out of an unused laundry facility and taking meetings in Washington, D.C.’s Mayflower Hotel, Bernard “Bernie” Hillenbrand took charge of NACo as its first full-time executive director in 1957.

Over the next 25 years, his vision and personality led the organization to change the way counties were represented on the federal level. After retiring in 1982, Hillenbrand retired to pursue the Methodist ministry. He died Oct. 5 at the age of 93 after a brief illness.

“In 1957, county governments had no presence in Washington, D.C.,” said Larry Naake, NACo’s former executive director who first met Hillenbrand as a California State Association of Counties intern in the 1960s. “By the ’70s, we were included in the discussions with governors and mayors, and that was all due to the way he built the organization.”

In fact, the New York Times called him, in 1981, “the lobbyist who put counties back on the map of politics.”

Stay tuned to the NACo website for any family arrangements or contact details.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties