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Anne Helena Smith Tillmann
Anne Helena Smith Tillmann

Lives Lived: Anne Helena Smith Tillmann, 89 Add to ...

Mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, activist, grammar corrector, etiquette queen, keeper of the faith. Born Dec. 7, 1923, in North Bay, Ont.; died Aug. 17, 2013, in London, Ont., of pneumonia, aged 89.

Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation recounts the story of men and women who grew up during the privations of the Great Depression. The strongest values of this generation were compassion, respect and duty. Anne had these values in spades and used her Catholic faith as their building block.

Anne, the fifth of eight children, studied history and political science at University of Toronto. She graduated in 1943 and then worked for Trans-Canada Airlines. In 1947, she met Bill Tillmann, a physician who became a psychiatrist. They married in 1948 and immediately moved to Boston where he did his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. After their first son was born in 1949, the couple settled in London, Ont., where Bill started Canada’s first psychiatry department in a general hospital, at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Anne’s character was shaped growing up during the depression in North Bay. She would recount how men would show up at their back door, penniless and without work. Her haberdasher father, Alonzo, and her mother, Anna, would make sure the men were fed and given pen and paper to write a letter home. Anne and her siblings served as scribes for those who could not write. This was one of the many lessons she learned about caring for the less fortunate. She went on to do volunteer work for many organizations, including Big Sisters, the May Court Club, Madame Vanier Child Services and the Bishop of London’s council on the status of women in the church.

Her unbridled love for her husband taught their nine children (Ged, Pegianne, Mary Pat, Judy, Catherine, Paula, Babs, Bill and Richard) about true love and commitment. Anne believed that possessions were much less valuable than family, friendships and giving to others.

With a large family, Anne knew how to live frugally. It was heresy for her to leave lights burning, to throw out leftovers, or discard clothing because of a tear or hole. To help her children learn the value of money and the folly of waste, she had a system: If we left a room with a light on, or walked around the house in our socks, it cost us a nickle.

The dining room table was her classroom. We were taught to speak in turn and not to interrupt. Stories had to be told with grammatical correctness; we still find ourselves biting our tongues when a friend or colleague uses incorrect grammar. Proper manners were also important. Woe the poor boyfriend who started to eat before everyone was served. She would focus her famous “hairy eyeball” and the message would be silently delivered.

Anne and Bill loved their time together at the cottage in Bayfield, Ont. And every summer, all nine kids would be loaded into the station wagon and driven from Bayfield to Trout Lake, near North Bay, to spend a few weeks at their cousins’ cottages.

Once their children were launched into adulthood, Anne and Bill enjoyed travelling. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she became his caregiver. After he died in 1998, her life continued to involve volunteer work and being present for her 15 grandchildren (and three great-granddaughters).

Her children are awestruck by the outpouring of support, friendship and charitable giving in her name. She would have been humbled and embarrassed, but proud that her family is carrying on her life lessons.

Bill Tillmann is Anne’s son.

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