Tillman retires from library

Published 12:23 am Sunday, July 27, 2008

NATCHEZ — Though Dr. Clifford Tillman may deserve a lot of credit, he refuses to accept it.

For 46 years, Tillman gave his service to the Judge George W. Armstrong Library, sitting at the epicenter of its transition from the current federal courthouse to its stately presence on Commerce Street.

When Tillman joined the library’s board of trustees in 1962, the library consisted of one or two rooms, barely any books and a smattering of employees.

Email newsletter signup

“It simply wasn’t an active library,” he said. “It was very idle most of the time.”

Ashamed of its inadequacy, Tillman knew something had to change. Tillman soon joined a 40- to 50-person effort to get a new library.

He did not realize that he was staring into the face of a feat that would be met with much resentment.

“Well, you never heard such a howl,” he said.

He said Natchez residents didn’t want a library and thought the one they had was fine.

It was nearly two years later when Tillman came back with a new campaign that wasn’t telling people the city needed to build a new library, rather posing the question of where to build one.

“We acted as though we just needed to build one,” he said.

“Pretty soon everybody was looking for land to build the library,” Tillman said with a laugh.

The library transitioned from old building to new by the end of May in 1965.

“It worked out very nicely that we could make this work and work it did,” Tillman said.

At some point, though Tillman can’t exactly recall, he came the president of the board.

Now in a library that has — under Tillman’s guidance — an upgraded automation system, computers, wireless Internet, children’s computers, an updated children’s collection and a young adult collection, Tillman won’t admit he was a key player.

“I haven’t worked hard on this, I don’t want anyone to think I was instrumental in getting all this,” he said.

Others would disagree.

Library Director Susan Cassagne said Tillman has offered great leadership in the six-plus years she’s served in her capacity.

“He’s been wonderful, he’s just devoted to the library,” Cassagne said.

She said his devotion stems from his love of the community, of which a library is the center.

But Tillman said the library is doing as well as it is because of Cassagne.

“The library is only as good as its chief librarian,” he said.

Out of the five head librarians he’s seen through his time, none can compare to her, he said.

“The lady we have now is unreal, she is so good. I’ve been lying on the couch doing nothing since she’s been here,” he said.

But Cassagne said Tillman’s knowledge is invaluable and incomparable.

“I don’t think anyone can fill his shoes,” she said. “They may fill his seat on the board but he has so much knowledge of the history of the library, any new person coming in wouldn’t have the knowledge he has.”

Board member Beverly Aldridge has served on the board with Tillman for 30 years and said serving it has been a pleasure.

“He was a strong leader, but he led gently,” she said. “He loved what he was doing, he loved being a part of the board and being president of the board and that helped to make all the rest of us enjoy it, too.”

Tillman said his decision to retire is based on his age.

“I am now 86 years old, that’s about as old as you can get,” he said. “I could tell that I wasn’t as sharp as I was in the past. I’m not as strong as I used to be.”

He said he stayed active with the library board for as long as he did because no one ever gave him the boot.

“Nobody wanted to get rid of me,” he said with a slight chuckle.

Aldridge said it’s going to be quite an adjustment.

“It’s going to be very hard to get used to that,” she said. “We will really miss him and we’ll have to come up, hopefully, with another person who can be a strong leader like he was.

“That’s going to be difficult.”

The library is having a reception in Tillman’s honor from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday at the library.

Tillman will continue to work at Natchez Regional Medical Center reading electrocardiograms.