Heritage Society member Sue A. Tillery ’81 is proud to continue in her father’s footsteps by supporting students at Mary Washington. Her father, Franklin E. Tillery, was the brother of a Mary Washington alumna, the parent of two Mary Washington alumnae, and a longtime member of the UMW Heritage Society.
Sue recently completed provisions within her estate that will create a new scholarship for music students to recognize both talent and academic merit.
“Dad was just an ordinary, middle-class person,” says Sue. “He always wanted to do his part in helping people who might not get help otherwise, and I’m glad to carry on that legacy.”
In 1981, Franklin E. Tillery established a scholarship in his name to support students with high academic merit at Mary Washington. A few years later, he created the Elizabeth P. Tillery Scholarship in Music to honor the memory of his late wife. He also created named scholarships at other universities with family ties, including the College of William and Mary and the University of Michigan.
A native of Hampton, Virginia, Frank attended the Newport News Shipyard Apprentice School, served in World War II, and then attended the University of Michigan. After receiving a degree in nuclear engineering, he devoted his career to the Newport News shipyards.
Frank’s first introduction to Mary Washington was in the mid-1940s when he came to Fredericksburg to visit his sister, Jeanne Tillery Vesey ’46. Back home in Hampton, he met Betty Poe, a college graduate from North Carolina and a human computer/mathematician at NASA Langley Field (NACA). Betty loved music and sang in the church choir. The couple married and had three children, all of whom shared a love for music.
In the 1970s, two of three Tillery children, Margaret Tillery Bell ’78 and Sue, came to their aunt’s alma mater to attend a Governor’s School summer session. With the offer of academic scholarships, they each enrolled at Mary Washington and pursued double majors in music and mathematics. The youngest daughter, Mary Jo Tillery Nidiffer, opted for William and Mary and majored in music and economics. All followed their father’s practical advice to study and enjoy music, but “be sure you have something to earn a living with.”
Sue was a regional scholar at Mary Washington and also received the Aurelia B. Walford and the Anne Hamer Scholarships. She played violin in the orchestra, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Mortar Board, and was president of the Music Educators National Conference (MENC).
“I have many fond memories of my college years – recitals in Klein; music classes in Pollard; math, computer, and physics classes in Combs; and watching ‘Dallas’ on Friday nights with other Mary Ball residents,” says Sue. “Overall, the academics and arts at Mary Washington were just the right fit for me.”
After graduating with a double major and teaching certificates in both music and mathematics, Sue accepted a position as a computer programmer with IBM in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She planned to work there only until a teaching position became available; however, she soon discovered she enjoyed the work. She continued her career in the computer industry, working on major government contracts and for well-known corporations in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
While Sue utilized her math skills at work, she shared her other talents by offering private music lessons and participating in church choirs, directing handbells, and leading youth and children’s choirs. For 26 years, she also served as the minister of music for the Viers Mill Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Before her father’s passing in 2007, Sue often accompanied him back to Mary Washington when he met scholarship recipients at various events, including the annual Donor Appreciation Luncheon. “He really liked visiting with the students,” says Sue. “Many wrote him years after they graduated to invite him to weddings, share their career successes, and even to send photos of their own children.”
In the four decades since Frank established the first Tillery scholarship at Mary Washington, more than 75 UMW students have directly benefitted from the financial support – many for multiple years.
“It makes me feel good to follow in Dad’s footsteps,” says Sue. “I have faith and trust in the way the UMW staff has administered the Tillery scholarships. I decided this was an ideal way to leave a legacy in my family’s name while helping academically strong students find their career paths in music.”
Bequests to Mary Washington can support a variety of programs that have direct impact on student success. Contact the Office of Gift Planning at 540-654-2064 to discover how you can leave a legacy in a way that is meaningful to you.