It’s cliche, but everyone has a story

Wendel Sloan

Wendel Sloan

By Wendell Sloan

Local columnist

It is a cliché, but — patronizing stereotypes to the contrary — everyone has a story.

I have known Matt Hillsman, 78, since his 1986 arrival on the High Plains from Connecticut to pursue a master’s in archaeology — joining son Ian in college.

“It’s nice you are here,” Ian told him, “but make yourself scarce.”

In 1992 Hillsman became the curator of the Blackwater Draw Museum between Clovis and Portales.

After his recent retirement, we had our first extended conversation.

Married four times, producing two sons, he says, “I’m not sure marriage is meant to be forever. … Three of the four were good wives, and the fourth might have been except for her family.”

With a bachelor’s degree in physics from Penn State, he worked for the Naval Underwater Systems Center in Connecticut.

After inventing a device that “diminished the bloom” from cigarettes and other lights for night-vision scopes — which can magnify starlight 50,000 times — he went to Vietnam to train Seals.

To keep from being executed as a spy if captured, Hillsman was made an honorary Marine.
On one river patrol, a sailor next to Hillsman was shot to death.

After suffering from migraines, his third (former) wife, a nurse/ballet dancer, visited a chiropractor in 1985. After a neck manipulation, Linda Solsbury suffered a stroke and was left a mute quadriplegic.

Awarded $10 million, she never collected before dying 21 years later at 57 — but not before being interviewed by Connie Chung and spearheading a Connecticut law requiring medical liability insurance.

Hillsman, full-bearded, does not fear death because “I’ve done almost everything I wanted.”

The former monastery student says the driving force in life seems to be its propagation; he has no illusions about an afterlife.
“Our remains disseminate back into the universe,” he said.

His only regret is not having grandkids — which is not in the current cards.

“I would still like to have another kid,” Hillsman says of continuing his lineage. “I’m keeping my eyes open.”

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