On April 23, Santa Monica lost one of its most admired citizens, Ed Tillmon who passed away at age 98, the devoted husband to Barbara Tillmon. The two met as students at the University of Kansas after which Ed received his Masters at the University of Nebraska. Looking very handsome in his military officer’s uniform, Ed married his beautiful bride on January 24, 1945. Their union was blessed with three children, Coni, Edward Wilson and Bobbi. Ed and Barbara were married 76 joyful years, I’m guessing in no small part to their 16 grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren. (27? How did he and Barbara remember all the names?)
Ed and Barbara moved into the almost brand new 17-story Santa Monica Shores in Ocean Park in 1968. They are a very special, warm family that led lives filled with remarkable accomplishments matched with humility. For example, when Ed was drafted into the military, he rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant and was a member of the world renowned Tuskegee airmen, comprised of primarily African American fighter and bomber pilots, navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, and support personnel. (Ed was trained to be a navigator and bombardier.)
Shamefully, during WWII our military forces were racially segregated. It’s tragically ironic that, while we were fighting fascism to preserve freedom around the world, we apparently were okay with segregation. But not Ed who had a strong sense of right and wrong throughout his life. He and others of the 477th bombardment group were arrested when they attempted to integrate the “whites only” officers club on base. This historical act of civil disobedience, now known as “The Freeman Field Mutiny,” became an important step towards desegregation of the military.
(On July 26, 1948, Executive Order 9981 was issued by President Harry Truman, abolishing discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin” in the U.S. Armed Forces.
In fact in 2007 Ed received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington D.C. at the Capitol Rotunda. And in 2008 he was thrilled to attend President Barack Obama’s first Inauguration as an invited guest with other Tuskegee Airmen. (Ed also enjoyed a vintage plane “fly over” at an U.S.C. football game where he and other Tuskegee Airmen were honored at halftime and the group were later feted on a magnificent float in the Pasadena Rose Parade.)
Ed and Barbara and their extended family are so admirable I jokingly say they deserve a book or a mini-series, but I’m only allowed 800 words. I first met Ed when we were on the board of the Shores Residents Association. I was recruited to help with the newsletter and Ed was as Treasurer because of his vast experience as a bank executive whose resume included President of the Douglass State Bank in Kansas City, Kansas and out here in Southern California as a Senior Vice-President at California Federal Savings and loan and in the late 80’s was CEO of Mead Housing an organization that built affordable housing in the South Bay . Despite the tiny Shores Residents treasury Ed took his four years on the job very seriously and was meticulous with his reports. (It reminded me of Einstein being recruited to do your math homework.)
With his calm, and dignified demeanor Ed was a pleasure to be around.
He had a wonderful laugh and an abundance of kindness he shared with everyone as he would take his legendary long walks all over Santa Monica. On one of those walks he saw his friend (and mine) and fellow Shores resident, Robin Sherry, take a fall. Fortunately she was more embarrassed than hurt, but Ed insisted on turning around and walking her home. She never forgot the gentlemanly gesture.
Barbara is always a delight to chat with and, even in her grieving period, is warm to all who greet her. And she was also always fun to be around and forever young at heart. Though thirty years apart in age, on multiple occasions Robin would drive to SMC where she and Barbara would take the scheduled Big Blue Bus day trips to Indian casinos. The two would joyfully play the slots like Vegas high rollers. (Actually pennies to quarters and, if Barbara was feeling really lucky, $1 slots.) But Robin describes the trips, including a delicious lunch, as a “blast” for both of them.
As for Edward Elias Day Tillmon, he was born at sunrise January 5, 1923 and passed at sunset April 27th, 2021. Talk about a full circle and a life so well lived. His presence is deeply missed but he will continue to be honored and loved by his family and friends of which I’m grateful and proud to say I was one.