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Obituaries

Roderick M. Hills dies at 83; head of the SEC under President Ford

Roderick Hills
Roderick M. Hills, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission under President Ford, died Wednesday in Baltimore. He was 83.
(Chris Kleponis / Bloomberg News)

Roderick M. Hills, who led the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under President Ford and concluded that investment companies needed more freedom from regulation, has died. He was 83.

He died Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, said his wife, Carla Hills, a former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development and U.S. trade representative. The cause was surgical complications following heart problems, she said.

Hills was a corporate lawyer and a White House counsel to Ford before becoming SEC chairman in October 1975, just months after the SEC did away with fixed brokerage commission rates. Ford selected him to succeed Ray Garrett Jr., who had resigned.

He “had a brilliant legal career and was a man of great character,” current SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White said in a statement. “Chairman Hills was a true champion for America’s investors. The SEC has lost a strong leader and friend.”

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In a speech in March 1977, as he was preparing to step aside at the start of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, Hills said his achievements included reducing paperwork and case backlogs and leading the SEC into the computer era.

Also in that farewell speech, delivered at a conference of the Practising Law Institute, he endorsed a new approach to regulating investment funds.

“I must state that I am far more convinced today than I was 16 months ago that a major change in our approach to investment companies is due,” he said. “Disclosure, competition and independent directors must be substituted in wholesale doses for regulation.”

Under Hills, the SEC in 1977 approved, for the first time, trading in put options — the right to sell shares at a future date at a specific price, a way to bet on a stock’s price going down — on certain securities. Less than a year later, under Hills’ successor, Harold Williams, the agency halted expansion of the booming options market pending new rules and procedures to protect investors. The moratorium was lifted in 1980.

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Roderick Maltman Hills was born March 9, 1931, in Seattle. He earned his undergraduate degree in 1952 and his law degree in 1955 from Stanford University. After serving as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stanley F. Reed, he went into private practice in Los Angeles, where, in 1962, he formed Munger, Tolles, Hills & Rickershauser — now Munger, Tolles & Olson — with his wife and three other lawyers.

In 1971, he went on leave to become chairman of the board of Republic Corp., a film processor and manufacturer of home appliances based in Beverly Hills. During his four years there, the company reached an agreement with its bank lenders to avert bankruptcy.

He joined the Ford administration in April 1975 as deputy to the White House counsel, Philip W. Buchen. That October, Ford named him to head the SEC.

After leaving the SEC in 1977, Hills served for less than a year as chairman of St. Louis-based Peabody Coal Co.

He was founder and chairman of the Hills Program on Governance at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, and founder and former chairman of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, a trade group for U.S. companies active in Southeast Asia. Hills was a partner at the Washington law firm Hills Stern & Morley LLP.

He and his wife had four children.

news.obits@latimes.com

Arnold writes for Bloomberg News.

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