Dr. Clifford Tillman dies at age 89

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 13, 2009

NATCHEZ — Dr. Clifford Tillman certainly contributed to the health and well-being of hundreds of Miss-Lou residents, but his love for people, nature and community advancement didn’t stop at the waiting room door.

Tillman, who died Wednesday evening at the age of 89, was also a lifesaver to the Armstrong Library and dozens upon dozens of birds.

“He was first in his class in just about everything,” retired physician Dr. William Godfrey said. “He was a good person, and he loved the profession of medicine.”

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Tillman opened his medical practice in Natchez in 1951 and retired 56 years later in 2007. He specialized in internal medicine and cardiology.

During his decades of practicing medicine in Natchez, Tillman, Godfrey and Dr. Bruce Kuehnle developed a doctors’ club of sorts at the hospital.

“I dubbed it philosophy 101,” Kuehnle said. “The hospital had a library where they put coffee and donuts for the doctors. We would meet and have coffee. We used to talk about patients and how to help each other with our cases. It would degenerate into the stock market and other things.”

But it was Tillman’s dedication not to philosophical talks but the patients that kept him in the business for decades, Godfrey said.

“(As a doctor) you’ve got to love it,” Godfrey said. “You do not have the attitude of ‘thank God it’s Friday.’ And you don’t dread Monday morning. He was a very good doctor.”

Outside the hospital, Tillman was instrumental in making the Armstrong Library what it is today, Director Susan Cassagne said.

And though he denied the importance of his role in the construction of the new public library, Cassagne and fellow library board member Beverly Aldridge said Tillman was responsible.

“When he was on the board there was a discussion phase on whether a new library was needed,” Cassagne said. “He got awareness out that the old one didn’t serve the need. He was adamant about it.”

Aldridge served on the board while Tillman was president from approximately 1980 to 2005. The library was in its new building, but new automation systems, new programs and computers were needed.

“Clifford was the kind of person that could handle difficult situations and make them turn out right,” Aldridge said.

That leadership made the library a success, Cassagne said.

“I don’t think we’d have this building at all without him,” she said. “I don’t think the library service as it is in Natchez now would exist without Dr. Tillman’s perseverance.”

It was Tillman’s love of learning that drove his passion for the library, friends said, but it was that same love of knowledge that sent him outdoors.

Tillman’s hobby was birding, and his yard reflected it. Up to 15 birdfeeders kept countless birds fully fueled for years. Tillman was president of the Natchez Audubon Society and shared his love for nature with friends, Albert Metcalfe said.

For as long as Metcalfe has been a member of the Natchez Rotary Club, Tillman was there, Metcalfe said.

Tillman joined the club in 1953.

“He’s a man very well respected in the community and a good friend of ours,” Metcalfe said. “He played a very significant role in our community.”

Tillman fell ill recently and leaves behind his wife Sarah Ann Gardner Tillman and four children, Dr. Randy Tillman and Dr. Barry Tillman of Natchez, Linda Tillman of Atlanta and Beth Tillman of Chapel Hill, N.C.

He was a World War II veteran who served as a U.S. Army transport surgeon. He attended Vanderbilt University.