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Richard Hilliman, sailboat captain who brought excursions and ferry to Buffalo's waterfront

Richard Hilliman, sailboat captain who brought excursions and ferry to Buffalo's waterfront

Jan. 29, 1949 – March 4, 2020

Richard "Ric" Joseph Hilliman loved driving boats.

That passion could be seen whenever Mr. Hilliman guided the Spirit of Buffalo, a 73-foot coastal steel-hulled schooner sailing out of Buffalo Harbor. It was also evident on the many public sails and privately chartered excursions operated by Buffalo Sailing Adventures, Mr. Hilliman's family-owned and operated company established in December 2008.

"His joy for life was an inspiration to all who met him," said his son, Richard J. Hilliman II.

Mr. Hilliman died Wednesday in Buffalo General Medical Center due to complications from pneumonia. He was 71.

During his childhood on Buffalo's West Side, he loved the outdoors and being on the water. He graduated from Lafayette High School.

Mr. Hilliman and his wife, the former Katherine Ann Lipinski, shared a passion for sailing that began for her after they met as teenagers. They spent weekends at Sherkston Beach renting small sailboats and later, while raising three children in the Town of Tonawanda, they bought their first sailboat, a hobie cat, and took it on Lake Erie, the Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir.

Their next boat, Miss Kathy, was a small sailboat they sailed for many years.

While studying for his captain's license, Mr. Hilliman volunteered on the Buffalo fireboat Edward M. Cotter. He then became a captain for several tour boat companies, over several summers, including Miss Buffalo, Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises and Moondance.

In 2008, the Hillimans began piloting the Spirit of Buffalo. Mr. Hilliman and his son Rich later started the Queen City Bike Ferry and Buffalo River History Tours.

In the beginning, Mr. Hilliman had one boat and four employees – all family members. The company grew to four boats with more than 50 seasonal employees.

In the offseason, Mr. Hilliman sailed a personal sailboat, the Sea Dragon, to Central America, cruising the islands with his wife. That's where he was when he grew ill last month, before his return to the U.S.

Mr. Hilliman worked during his early adult life as a salesman and later as a sales manager.

Other survivors include a son, Brian N.; a daughter, Kelly M. Hacker; two sisters, Joan Rice and Theresa Farham; and six grandchildren.

A funeral service will be private, but a funeral procession will be held at 10:45 a.m. Monday at Canalside, where Hilliman was one of the commercial pioneers.

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