Dr Patricia Hillebrandt (1929 – 2022)
13 September 2022
We were deeply saddened to learn that Dr Patricia Hillebrandt, a hugely respected woman in the field of construction economics, died on 21 July at the age of 92.
Patricia spent the majority of her professional life working with, teaching and researching the construction industry, helping to shape it in the face of radical government changes to the industry, such as privatisation and outsourcing and using economic concepts and analysis to develop valuable insight and understanding.
After becoming a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Reading in the 1980s, she developed international connections for the University and worked on several research projects and two significant books: The Management of Construction Firms: Aspects of Theory (1989) and The Modern Construction Firm (1990)
Her later work at Reading included further books and saw her awarded an honorary doctorate in 2006 by the University in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the understanding of how firms in the construction industry work.
Patricia was brought up and educated in North London. Despite much of her education being disrupted by the Second World War, she became Head Girl at South Hampstead School for Girls and earned a place at University College London (UCL) to study Economics.
On graduation, she joined Plant Protection Ltd as an assistant economist and studied for her PhD on the economics of weedkillers at London School of Economics. She was proud to be awarded her doctorate and to be a rare example of a woman in construction at the time.
Patricia took up a senior lectureship at UCL in 1967, co-founding its Master’s course in Building Economics and Management, before joining the University of Reading
Her near 50-year construction career included spells at Plant Protection Ltd, Richard Costain Ltd and, later, Davis Langdon Consultancy Group. She also held positions at the National Economic Development Office and the International Economics Association, and authored a number of reports and books on problems and solutions within the construction industry. Her 1974 book, Economic Theory and the Construction Industry, is a viewed as a seminal piece of work.
Patricia carried out major consultancy work in Egypt, Sri Lanka and Russia, the latter while Mikhail Gorbachev was coming to power in the former Soviet Union. Through her work there she developed connections between the Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow (IMEMO) the University of Reading and several exchanges ensued.
Unlike many construction researchers her interests were in construction industries and firms rather than construction projects. And, in her consultancy work, she was interested in the role of construction in the economy.
National Trust work
Patricia married Dr Hans Hopf, an international agricultural expert, in 1957 and had two children: John and Robert. They lived for many years in the Cotswolds, with Patricia moving to Acton after he husband’s death.
After her retirement, she volunteered with the National Trust, guiding at Newark Park, a historic hunting lodge, and researched the history of the building. The result was published as a National Trust pamphlet. She also continued to write and study.
Patricia leaves generations of students, colleagues and others better equipped to work and live in an industry she loved.
She was a charming and attentive host for her family and her friends. Pat was a delightful person generous with her time and hospitality and will be missed by many, locally in Gloucestershire, nationally and throughout the world.
She leaves her sons, their spouses and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.