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MACA Chess Horizons Magazine Article
 John Hillery: The Mr. Spock of California Chess
 Hal Bogner
  October 2010
John Hillery arrived in southern California in the early 1980s, shortly after I did. We quickly got to know each other through work for the Southern California Chess Federation and play in the Sunday master's section at The Chess Set - the chess club that famously met in the home of the godmother of the LA chess scene in those days, Lina Grumette. My recollections of him all date from that decade, when he often took the role of my chief assistant at the many large tournaments we ran, such as the Memorial Day Classic and American Open, in those days.
As a colleague, having his help was as reliable and valuable to me as Mr. Spock's help must have been to Captain Kirk throughout the entire fictional history of the original Star Trek crew. And, of course - like Spock -John acted as though to deny that he had a human mother.
I believe that this endeared him to Lina. Once, in an early round of Lina's Memorial Day Classic, a player in John's section found out that his daughter had been in a car accident; she was OK, but her father wanted to go make sure. With his opponent's consent, I adjourned the game - which he would either resume the next morning, or resign if he decided he could not return to the tournament. John had been at lunch when this occurred, but when I gave him the adjournment envelope and the story, he growled quietly and cited chapter and verse from the rulebook, arguing that temporary adjournments for medical reasons did not extent to family members' conditions. On hearing this story, Lina smiled and told me "That's our John!" 
As we were also fortunate enough to have had the assistance of Andrew Smith in those days, too - who played the role of Dr. McCoy on our team - I never found John's 100% commitment to unemotional rationality to be a limitation, and in fact, it was a source of great and reliable strength on many occasions.
John was very private and lived modestly. Ascetic and acerbic, John had a vast vocabulary and a wicked sense of humor- I thought of him as a modern reincarnation of the famous writer and journalist Ambrose Bierce, who I believed he much admired. In fact, John had a theory to explain Bierce's death, which is believed to have occurred in Mexico in 1913 or so: he thought that Bierce must have encountered Pancho Villa - and told him exactly what he thought of him. And now, in whatever Hereafter there may be, I can easily picture John doing the same.

In all of my experiences with him, John embodied great intellect, an unflinchingly selfless sense of fairness, and a willingness to work hard for those whom he undertook to assist or serve. Though I have not run tournaments in 20 years now, and have been away from LA for almost that long, I miss him already. Requiescat in pace, John.

Hal Bogner

Life Master, International Arbiter

former SCCF president