Dr. Mark Nolan Hill found himself face to face with a policeman on the night of his debut as a band member performing at a block party in Highland Park.
It was 1987.
“Noise complaint,” Hill says of what drew the cop to the neighborhood gathering.
The officer looked at Hill.
And then looked at Hill again.
“You look familiar,” he told the doctor/lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist 30 years ago.
Dr. Hill recognized the policeman and asked, “How’s your son?”
None other than Hill had removed the son’s appendix in an operation earlier that year.
The grateful policeman/father, remembering why he was conversing with Hill in the first place, smiled and urged Hill and his band mates to, “Just keep it down.”
Dr. Hill — professor of surgery at The Chicago Medical School and president of North Shore Surgical Associates in Libertyville — and Dr. Mark — founder of the 30-year-old benefit band, Dr. Mark and the Sutures — are one and the same. The 66-year-old deposits a packet of Suisse mocha into a hot cup of water at Country Kitchen in Highland Park, his hometown. He waits for his omelet with green peppers, bacon and sausage, with a side of cucumber slices, but he can’t wait to tell me about the mentors in his life and how excited he is to serve as a mentor to countless others each day.
“I’m intense, and I’m inquisitive,” Hill declares with, well, intensity. “My grandfather [Mentor No. 1 — Henry Charles Hill, a native of Leeds, England] loved to read the encyclopedia. Remember that? It was his favorite book. He liked to say to me, ‘Mark, you have a mouth; use it to ask questions.’ ”
Mentor No. 2 was his father, Bert Hill, a jazz guitarist who played with Les Paul. Yes, that Les Paul. A reserved man, Bert liked to sit down with a young Mark on Friday nights and lecture about astronomy and other sciences.
“He’d then give me a vocal quiz on what I had just learned,” the son recalls. “If I did well, my dad would treat me to ice cream.”
A graduate of now-defunct Niles East High School, Hill met Mentor No. 3 on his first day of classes at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Dr. Ronald Pfohl taught zoology. A certain intense, inquisitive teen raised his hand near the end of class, and the professor — aware he was short on time — encouraged Hill to ask the question during office hours.
“He guided me. He was the one who told me, ‘You love people, and you love science. Consider studying medicine,’ ” says Hill, who founded Miami Med, the pre-med honor society at MU. “I researched enzyme development [in 1973] and got the opportunity to be around world leaders in my field at Marine Biological Laboratory [in Woods Hole, Massachusetts] because of Dr. Pfohl.”
Hill’s primary mentor (No. 4) at the start of his career in medicine was Dr. Irving Stein Jr., a Northwestern University Medial School professor of surgery and a surgeon who practiced in Highland Park for more than 45 years.
Hill’s major influences, outside of his life as a sprightly man in scrubs?
Another Fab Four — namely John, Paul, George and Ringo.
“I grew up in the 1960s, the son of a musician,” Hill says. “I listened to The Beatles, loved The Beatles, and from the age of 11 or 12, all I wanted to be was a rock star.”
He settled for sharply dressed wedding singer, at the age of … 13. Hill might have set a record for donning a tuxedo more times than anybody else had before the age of 18. Money from the gigs went toward college tuition.
He was 25 when he last performed for newlyweds and their guests.
Following that block party in ’87, Hill and the friends he had recruited to perform with him received highly favorable reviews.
“If we had been terrible,” Hill says, “our thought was, ‘Who cares? It’s a block party.’ ”
Folks nudged Hill to form an established band, and he did just that. But it would never entertain for money. The collection of talented, amateur musicians — physicians and businessmen, plus Adam Hill (now 30), Dr. Mark’s son — put on scrubs and jammed for medical charities, benefits, service organizations and community events. Dr. Mark and the Sutures also recognized outstanding community members at each local concert.
One issue: finding the time to practice.
“It is easier to take out a gallbladder than it is to get our band members to come up with a time when all of us can meet to rehearse,” Hill says.
The band has opened for country music luminaries Tim McGraw, Randy Travis and Martina McBride. It has performed Beatles and Eagles covers at a slew of venues in three decades, including Ravinia Festival in Highland Park and Allstate Arena in Rosemont. More than 58,000 music lovers listened to the band at a Country Thunder concert in Wisconsin.
The band launched its 30th Year Anniversary World Tour last month at Port Clinton Square in Highland Park.
City of Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering proclaimed August 12, 2017, Dr. Mark and the Sutures Day.
“Concertgoers come up to me and ask, ‘Dr. Mark, are you Dr. Hill?’ ” says Hill, who has two other grown children — Kelsey, 28, and Linden, 26. “And patients of mine ask, ‘Dr. Hill, are you Dr. Mark?’
“I’ve also heard parents at concerts say to their children, ‘See, you can be a doctor and a rock star.’ ”