Roderick Hilsinger, 69, of Mount Airy, a Temple University professor who received a presidential commendation for heroism in 1973, died of cancer Friday at home. Mr. Hilsinger was deemed a hero after tossing a grenade into a section of empty seats during the 1972 hijacking of a Paris-bound Ethiopian plane, saving the lives of about 100 people. "Anyone would have done the same thing if they saw a hand grenade two feet from your foot," he said at the time.
Mr. Hilsinger, a passenger on the plane, was injured seriously in the blast, suffering shrapnel wounds to his head, shoulder, and ankles. Seven hijackers were killed in the ensuing gun battle with Ethiopian security forces at Addis Ababa.
The next year President Nixon awarded him a commendation for "his uncommon valor and heroism."
A nationally known educator, Mr. Hilsinger served on a panel in 1963 that had virtual control over about $60 million worth of programs for Philadelphia's educationally disadvantaged students.
He later helped found and chair Temple University's Department of Urban Education.. He retired in 1988 to travel the world.
Born in New York City on August 4, 1931, Mr. Hilsinger was reared an orphan. He was once arrested for shoplifting and briefly attended reform school.
Years later, Mr. Hilsinger made it a priority to keep his family close together, organizing annual reunions, his son Douglas said. Last year, Mr. Hilsinger published a history of the Hilsinger family dating to 1586.
"He was most intelligent and an extremely generous, beautiful man. He was completely nonjudgemental about everyone," his son said.
Mr. Hilsinger earned bachelor's and master's degrees from New York State College for Teachers at Albany. He earned a Ph.D in education from Michigan State University in 1963.
He had four children with his wife, Patricia Dean. The couple later divorced. In 1979, he married Elaine Gordon Blake.
In addition to his son, Mr. Hilsinger is survived by his wife, Elaine, daughters Dorothy, Katherine Leigh, and Ellen, two brothers, three step-sons, and 14 grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 11:30 AM tomorrow at the Unitarian Church of Germantown, 6511 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia.