By Monique Garcia
After 2 years of postponing the celebration, Edward Hilliard was finally able to celebrate his 92nd birthday with family and friends. His daughters, Debra and Rise Hilliard, planned a drive-thru celebration for their father in front of his Long Beach residence.
The guest of honor sat under his own personalized tent as friends and family members stopped by to say congratulations, sign his 2-foot birthday card, and pick up a goody bag. Although none of the classic birthday essentials like cake or candles made an appearance, the loving energy and well-wishes were strongly felt all around.
“We were just thankful to do it in an environment where we felt safe. With COVID, we had to have it outdoors to social distance but everyone was really patient, thoughtful, and understanding,” said Debra.
The original plan for Mr. Hilliard’s birthday was to celebrate his monumental 90th with a big party. When everything was shut down in March 2020, just a week before the planned festivities, the birthday celebration had to be canceled.
Growing up, Mr. Hilliard was the eldest boy of 9 siblings. Even if he wanted to, he never had the opportunity to celebrate his birthday in a big way. This motivated his daughters to find a way to make his birthday memorable while keeping his safety in mind.
“We had to convince him to have a birthday celebration. He never had a party for himself growing up but we wanted something special to celebrate his 92nd,” said Debra.
The Korean War veteran, who served in the U.S. Army as an artilleryman from 1951 to 1953, spent the sunny Saturday before his birthday surrounded by family, some of whom he hadn’t seen in years. Occasionally, even a passing Long Beach local took the time to wish Mr. Hilliard a happy birthday and thank him for his service.
“One couple, complete strangers, even made the effort to go buy him a card and some chocolates just because they saw it was his birthday,” said Debra. “It was really nice.”
It was great to see everyone take the time in their busy schedule to wish their “Uncle Ed” a happy birthday. The drive-thru celebration was also a bit of a family reunion for some. His second daughter, Rise, flew down from San Francisco just for the occasion. Others made the long drive from Fontana just for the day.
Although he grew up in Weed, California, a small lumber city at the base of Mount Shasta, Mr. Hilliard has lived in Long Beach for the past 24 years. He moved to Long Beach in 1998 to be closer to both of his daughters.
You might recognize his daughter, Debra Hilliard, if you attended Wilson High School. Although she is now retired, she worked for 25 years as a counselor for LBUSD. For the past 7 years, the Hilliard family has also personally raised funds to support graduating Wilson High School seniors. The Marguerette Smith Scholarship works to financially assist students with high potential who may not qualify for bigger awards but are just as deserving.
And on behalf of the LB 908, Happy Birthday, Mr. Hilliard! Congratulations and thank you for your service.