Sarah Ann Gardner Tillman

Published 12:01 am Saturday, November 7, 2015

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March 10, 1922 – Nov. 4, 2015

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NATCHEZ — Services for Sarah Ann Gardner Tillman, 93, of Natchez, who died Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, in Natchez after a very brief illness, will be 3 p.m. Sunday at First Presbyterian Church.

Burial will follow at the Natchez City Cemetery under the direction of Laird Funeral Home.

Visitation will be from 2 p.m. until service time Sunday at Stratton Chapel.

Mrs. Tillman was born March 10, 1922, the daughter of James Forrest Gardner and Emma Dinges Gardner.

She grew up on a farm on Happy Valley Road in Rossville, Ga. Sarah was the second of six children and learned while growing up to cook, sew and create with her hands.

In 1945, Sarah graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in nursing. While at Vanderbilt, she met Clifford Tillman. They married on Nov. 3, 1944. She and Clifford lived in several different cities during his army service and medical training. Their first child, Linda, was born in 1948. In 1950, they moved back to Nashville, where Randy was born. Clifford completed his residency at Vanderbilt. In the summer of 1951, Sarah and Clifford moved to Natchez, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Her third child, Barry, arrived in 1955. In 1963, her last child, Beth, was born.

During her 64 years in Natchez, Sarah was involved in almost too many activities to name. Among them were the Pilgrimage Garden Club, the William Dunbar Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution — where she served as Regent — and the Colonial Dames. As a garden club member, she was horticultural adviser for flower shows, researched historically accurate costumes for the Historic Natchez Tableaux and was chairwoman of the Antiques Forum Bookstore for many years. She also helped manage the King’s Tavern gift shop when King’s Tavern was a garden club property. She went to Natchez Pilgrimage Tours Guide School to learn everything she could about Natchez history. As a tour guide for many years, she shared both her historical knowledge of Natchez and her knowledge of local plants.

She established the Great River Road Crafts Fair in the 1970s, an annual event benefiting Trinity Episcopal Day School. Because of her role with the craft fair, she was asked to help with the founding and organization of the Craftsman’s Guild of Mississippi.

With the Natchez Junior Garden Club, Sarah helped with the original planning and funding of the Avenue of Magnolias. This major project established the planting of magnolia trees along the first five miles of every highway entering the state.

Sarah was a member of the Garden Club of America, and in that role, she photographed the gardens of a number of Natchez antebellum homes. For 12 years, she annually chose one garden, and throughout that year, created a photographic record of the flowers there. Those photographs are housed in the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Gardens. She was asked to help name the streets of the Natchez City Cemetery and endeavored to choose names with historical relevance. She also got a lot of joy from helping to maintain the cemetery roses.

Sarah worked hard in every volunteer job she undertook. At the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, there is still an exhibit she created on “Indian Uses of Plants for Medicine.” She identified plants on the nature trail there and often volunteered on special days. She was a member of the Audubon Society, served as its president and participated in the annual Christmas bird count with her husband, Clifford.

She was an active member of the First Presbyterian Church where she often sat in the second row. For many years, every Sunday she helped with the flowers in the sanctuary. One of her favorite activities was reading to the children at a preschool at the church where she was likely to show up with a handmade stuffed animal featured in the story.

She valued books and reading and frequently gave her grandchildren books as gifts. She baked her famous raisin bread for all her friends and acquaintances. She loved baking cookies with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She will be greatly missed by everyone who loved her.

Sarah received many awards and recognition for her volunteer work. Among them were Garden Lovers of Natchez, Club Medal of Merit (1984), Zone Horticulture Award (1996), Club Appreciation Award (1998), Club Conservation Award (2002), Club Garden History and Design Award (2006), and Club Photography Award (2012.)

Sarah was preceded in death by her husband, Dr. Clifford Tillman; her parents; two sisters, Mary G. Gamer and Emma “Sudie” G. D’Alessio; and two brothers, James F. Gardner Jr. and an infant brother.

Survivors include four children, Linda Delphine Tillman of Atlanta, Clifford Randolph Tillman and wife, Ann, and Barry Forrest Tillman and wife, Teri, all of Natchez, and Sarah Elizabeth Tillman of Chapel Hill, N.C.; two sisters, Polly G. Henry of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lucy G. Moore and husband, Sammy, of Anniston, Ala.; sister-in-law, Delphine Tillman Barnett of Charleston, S.C.; 13 grandchildren, Sarah Bycott McCormack, Rebecca Bycott Ramspott, Valerie Bycott Daniel, Catherine Tillman Whalen, Clifford Randolph Tillman Jr., Margaret Tillman Ayres, Rebecca Tillman Jex, Laura Tillman Greer, Rachel Tillman Spiotta, Amanda Tillman Shea, Benjamin Forrest Tillman, Avery Quinn Logan and Clara Ruth Logan; and 18 great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the National Audubon Society or the American Horticultural Society.

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