Investor, Teacher, Caretaker, Spy

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She worked several jobs at once. Day jobs. Night jobs. Weekend jobs. She was determined to make enough money never to be dependent on a man.

She did marry--twice--and had five children. Her first marriage, to Paul Raibon, broke up when her husband asked her to move to Florida, where wages were even lower than in Phoenix. She stayed and kept her jobs going. Raibon never really understood her decision but called her to his deathbed. Her second marriage, to the late Mack Hill, never officially ended, although the two lived separately, geographically and emotionally, for years.

She loves her five children, who pitch in to keep the boarding home running. "I wouldn't mess with you if I didn't love you," she tells her kids even today.

But she's not sure she really "love loved" her husbands. She didn't care when the relationships grew distant, and, she says, didn't care when her husbands went out with other women.

"They always said I was too independent," she says of both men.
Work consumed her. She socked her money away in real estate. She learned to cook, catering parties at night. Christmases, people booked her a year ahead. She'd pop her own dinner into the oven at home, race off to serve two dinners elsewhere, come home and pull out the kids' presents, which she'd bought on layaway at Woolworth's the previous July.

Although she worked around the impediments of racism, Izora Hill cannot, by any stretch, be called an "Aunt Tom."

She spent much of her life tending to the needs of Phoenix's upper-middle-class housewives, handwashing their underclothes, taking care of their children, serving their teas. They were dependent on her to free them of unpleasant household chores--and to keep the secrets that Izora learned simply by being in their houses.

She grew fond of some of these women, even naming her daughter Dovie after one employer.

If her employers were unintentionally condescending, she would forgive them in her own mind.

But if they were blatantly unkind or racist, Izora Hill would always extract a subtle revenge.

She would raise sand.
When she heard a racial slur at a party she had catered, before serving beverages, she made sure to drink out of each glass. Then she'd smile sweetly and bring the drinks in on a tray.

"Don't tell me you never would drink out of the same glass as a Negro," she would think to herself as she served the drinks.

She quit employers who treated her badly, waiting until they needed her most--the day before an important party, for instance. She left one employer because the lady of the house gave Izora only a cheese sandwich for lunch, even though her icebox was full of roast beef and ham.

"Give this cheese sandwich to your rats, they'll probably enjoy it better than I do," she recalls telling her employer as she collected her last wages.

Her favorite employer was Sidney P. Osborn, a Democrat who served as governor of Arizona from 1940 to 1948. She even named a son after the governor, whose wife couldn't have children of her own.

At the governor's weakest moments, when he'd come home at night fatigued and hungry, Izora sometimes tried to take advantage. She'd serve up a good meal, try to help him understand the needs of her people. But sometimes he didn't seem to comprehend her ideas.

She warned him, for example, not to destroy a neighborhood in South Phoenix to build the public housing project that now bears his name. She didn't believe in welfare and didn't think of blacks as victims.

"I told the governor not to put in that project down at Ninth Avenue and Tonto," she says. "There used to be a neighborhood there, and a theatre. But they bought everyone out and put those projects in there. He should have sent the people instead to Mobile, give them an acre to farm and two chickens."

Despite the close relationship Izora had with the Osborns, she was invisible to the Osborns' friends. Jack Williams, a former governor who was a close confidant of Osborn, says he has no idea Osborn had a maid. Lillian Stough, Osborn's assistant, says she never heard of Izora Hill.

This does not bother Izora. She doesn't remember Williams or Stough, either.

Phoenix's Republican power brokers often spoke openly about political strategies in front of Izora, the black woman who smiled and served them caviar canapes. Apparently, they did not suspect she was a devoted Democrat (she volunteered for 22 years as a precinct committeewoman, then served ten years as a state committeewoman). And, apparently, they thought she was too stupid to make sense of their conversations.

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Terry Greene Sterling

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