Skip to content

Campus mourns the loss of popular employee



The campus community is mourning the loss of Tonya Martinez-Hilton, a popular 20-year member of the Union community who inspired hundreds of friends during her battle with cancer. She died Dec. 1, 2011 at the age of 42.

She joined the College on Jan. 4, 1992, as an employee of Dining Services, the first of many departments she would serve with her trademark warmth and humor. 

She transferred to the Bookstore in 1996, the Cashier’s Office in 1997, and the Records Office in 2000. Her most recent appointment, in 2007, was as administrative assistant to the Department of Political Science. 

Survivors include her husband, Michael Hilton of Environmental, Health and Safety, whom she married Aug. 13, 1995.

Shortly after she was diagnosed last spring with late-stage lung cancer, hundreds packed Katie O’Byrne’s for “Tunes for Tonya,” a fundraiser for the Hiltons. “It was elbow to elbow, you couldn’t move,” said Paul DeBiase, manager of the Copy Center, whose band, Grand Central Station, donated their performance. “The outpouring of support was great, and it was so nice to see so many people from Union coming together for Tonya and Mike.”

She greeted people warmly, often with “Hello, Sunshine.” She made friends easily and accumulated them throughout her various assignments. Colleen Palleschi, administrative assistant in Physics, got to know Tonya when they both worked in Finance. Tonya joined Colleen and her colleagues in Physics almost every day for lunch. Every Wednesday, the group went to Peter Pause.

Among her former colleagues in Records, Tonya is remembered for sharing stories about her family life, her travels and her love of cooking. She also was known for her meticulous attention to her home, re-mowing the lawn after Mike had done so to get it “just right.” Her husband would sometimes call to ask which direction he should mow the lawn that week.

“She was an integral part of our team here and she did a great job,” recalled Kathy McCann, director of Records. “How lucky we were to share her excitement and enthusiasm for life. We laughed until we cried with her fantastic stories including all the contests her Himalayan cat Bailey should have won and didn’t, and the jokes and stories she told every day.”

“Tonya had an incredibly positive attitude about life,” recalled Prof. Zoe Oxley, who chaired Political Science for most of Tonya’s time with the department. “She had warm greetings for everyone, was quick to laugh, and made friends easily. She was also one of the most generous and selfless people I have ever met. She showered presents on friends and family - for special occasions and at other times just because she wanted to. Tonya was devoted to her family and her friends, always available to lend a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, or a smiling face to celebrate happy occasions. She brightened up the Political Science department in many ways and will be missed tremendously.”

Calling hours are set for Tuesday, Dec. 6, from 5 to 8 p.m. at DeMarco-Stone Funeral Home, 1605 Helderberg Ave., Schenectady. The funeral is Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 10 a.m. at St. John the Evangelist Church, 816 Union St., Schenectady.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Animal Protective Foundation in Scotia.