It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to our father William Gordon Tilley, a humble, kind and generous man who by any standard was blessed with a long and rewarding life. Predeceased by his loving and devoted wife of 65 years Margaret (Reid); parents, John and Clara Tilley; sisters Violet Streeter (Alf), Olive Reid (Peter), Muriel Bersick (Robert); Leaving to mourn three sons, Gary (Glida Dalton), Wayne (Marilyn Shortall), Glen (Annette Clarke); Grandchildren, Russell (Meghan), Brendan, Kristen (Darrell Edwards) Michael (Jill Cumby); Grandchildren, Zoe, Elise, Jack; A large number of nieces and nephews including Sonia May (Arthur deceased), Renata Keats (Jim), Wendell Streeter (Shirley) Diane Paolucci (Tony); Alan Reid (Rita), David Bersick; daughter in law Charlotte Tilley (Jim Wellman); Sister in law Emma Finley (Warner deceased).
As Dad remarked during his 100th Birthday speech “When you live to be a hundred – there is a lot to cover”
He was born on Plymouth Road in the east end of St. John’s, the same year World War 1 broke out in Europe. His mother was an accomplished seamstress, the daughter of Sidney Willar, the renowned sail maker. His father was a machinist at Harvey’s Butterine Factory. Dad was the only boy in the family but knew the love of his three sisters. When the family moved to the foot of Spencer Street in 1918, he was only four, how could he have imagined he would live on that street for the next 90 years?
He started kindergarten at the old Model School on Parade Street before moving to Holloway then to Bishop Feild College where he graduated in the Class of 1932. Dad remained a proud Feildian throughout his life. After graduation he was the first male and the first non-Catholic to attend the commercial/business program offered by the Presentation Sisters. Upon completion he applied for and was accepted by the Newfoundland Rangers. The day before he was to leave by train for training in Whitbourne, he received a call and an offer from the Newfoundland Railway. He chose the railway. So began a remarkable 44-year career.
He started out as a clerk stenographer and soon became the Assistant Marine Superintendent. When the province joined Confederation in 1949 he was promoted through many management positions with Canadian National Railway and CN Marine, ultimately becoming CN’s senior financial advisor before retiring in 1977. One of many career highlights: he was instrumental in forming and serving as long time president of the Railway Employees Welfare Association, an association committed to the wellbeing of Railway Employees.
But it was his involvement with his beloved Church Lads Brigade that brought him his greatest joy and, to some degree, his public recognition. He joined the CLB in 1925, as an 11 year old, first as a member of F Company, and then transferred to C Company at Bishop Feild and eventually to the newly formed Naval Company in 1933. In 1939, at the age of 25, he applied for and was given the position of Drum Major with the CLB Avalon Battalion Band (later Regimental Band), a role he would serve with distinction and a certain pardonable pride for an astounding 63 years. Generations would recall the tall athletic figure in the scarlet red tunic and great Black Watch hat, or busby, stoically swinging the “pace stick” as he led practically every major parade and participated in every major civic event and ceremony in this province. Still fit and hale at 88 years of age he relinquished his Drum Major’s position in 2002 – “before I become an old man” he would joke – and was given the rank of Major in the brigade. In 1977 he single handedly began work to build the CLB archive in the old armory on Harvey Road. It became his passion, a labour of love in which he dedicated himself to recording and chronicling the rich and storied history of the organization in Newfoundland. By December 1992 the archive was the centerpiece of the CLB’s 100th anniversary celebrations. Artifacts, records, photos and memorabilia had been collected and assembled from all over the province representing every community where the brigade was established. Tragically, later that month, and within days of the anniversary, Dad had to witness the inferno which destroyed the armory and all its contents in that great Harvey Road fire. With his heart still sore, he arose the next morning determined to rebuild the archive/museum that now bears his name. It became his second home, “his den” as our mother lovingly called it, where he worked three days a week well into his 102nd year.
Dad received many awards and accolades for his contributions to the community at large including, the Key to the City of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador Senior of Distinction, St. John’s Senior Citizen of The Year, and the two he was most proud of: his 90 year gold medal, long service award, from the CLB (he was the longest serving member in the world), and his Honorary Doctorate of Canon Law (Honoris Causa) bestowed upon him by Queens College in 2016.
Dad was a quiet inspiration to his family, friends and colleagues. He brought the same dedication to his family as he did to public service. A devoted husband and father, he always put the needs of others first. We were blessed to have grown up in a home where the ideals of love and respect were cherished. And he was blessed, blessed to have met and chosen our mother to be his wife and best friend. He lived a remarkable life. We will miss him dearly. The community may never see his like again.
We’d like to acknowledge the caring and professional staff at The Glenbrook Lodge and his personal physician Dr. Mary Watson. To his CLB comrades, past and present, we salute you all for enriching our father’s life. Fight The Good Fight.
Visitation at Carnell’s Funeral Home, Monday, December 18 and Tuesday December 19th; 2-4 and 7-9. Funeral service at the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Wednesday, December 20th at 2.pm. Interment to follow at the Anglican Cemetery Forest Road. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the CLB or a charity of one’s choice.
Carnell’s Funeral Home
329 Freshwater Road
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Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Church Street, St. John's