Donna Tillman, a Berlin native known for volunteerism in Tifton, died early Wednesday morning after suffering from a pulmonary embolism, which is a sudden blockage of a major blood vessel in the lung, usually caused by a blood clot that travels to the lung from a vein in the leg.
At age 52, Tillman was pronounced dead at 1:46 a.m. Wednesday, said Tift County Coroner Steve Wood. He advised that she was at home in bed and got up around 1:21 a.m. and collapsed shortly after getting up. Tillman’s daughter, 17-year-old Brooke Hester, was at home with her mother and contacted 911. Wood said an ambulance arrived on scene. Paramedics worked on her, as well as at the hospital, with negative results, he said.
“They couldn’t do anything,” said Wood.
Chet Powell, who has known Tillman all his life, told The Tifton Gazette Wednesday morning that he and Tillman were both born in Colquitt County. He said that Tillman was more to him than just a good friend.
“The family is shocked more than anything,” he said, while at Tillman’s home gathered with family and friends. He noted that many local firefighters, officers with the Tift County Sheriff’s Office and UPS workers also visited the house.
Tillman was an active UPS driver; a certified police officer, graduating from Abraham Baldwin Police Academy in 1990; and a volunteer firefighter with the Tifton-Tift County Fire Department.
Powell said her firefighter gear, as always, sat near the front door ready for her to grab whenever a call would come in.
Also, Powell, former manager of Reed Bingham State Park in Adel, said Tillman was a founding member of the Georgia Wildlife Rescue Association, which she helped him get started. Even though Tillman will no longer be physically a part of the association, Powell said she remains a permanent part of it.
He advised that he knew what kind of person Tillman was, but when she and her daughter came to volunteer at the park, they quickly became his go-to-volunteers. He stated, “I began to appreciate her work ethic.”
Powell advised that there are many people Tillman helped.
“I don’t see how she had personal time for herself. She spent all her time on other people,” he said. “She was a very dependable person who helped others and never thought about herself.”
Tillman received the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2010. She worked with UPS for over 30 years and volunteered in local communities for over 20.
She also sponsored a charity called Santa’s Bags, which she and her daughter delivered to homebound seniors and kids who had parents struggling during the holiday season. She was the president of Friends of Reed Bingham State Park and received the Becky Mann volunteer of the year award in 2006, the James E. Casey community service award in 2007 and was one of the 100 employees out of 427,000 chosen to go to Seattle, Wash., for the UPS centennial in 2007.
Tillman was quoted stating in a past article, “I will always continue to volunteer and run the charity. God gives me the strength to raise a child, work and volunteer, and I am not going to waste that strength that He has given me.”
Fire Chief Mike Coleman with the Tifton-Tift County Fire Department advised that there’s a whole lot that can be said about Tillman. He stated that he has never met a person with such a big heart and who did so much for others.
“She was truly the best of the best to her family and the community, and she will be missed by many people,” he said.
Coleman stated that Tillman was a hard worker who always gave her best, not only as a volunteer firefighter, but as a human being, such as with her many years of involvement with her charity.
“No man nor woman worked harder than Tillman,” Coleman said. “I always thought that about her. Anything she did, she did to the best of her ability. She put her whole heart into it and was very caring. She will truly be missed.”
As a volunteer firefighter, Tillman was very engaged, he noted. Justin Dotson, volunteer chief for Harding Station, worked closely with Tillman and also agreed that she was a very hard worker and caring person.
Many people, shocked to hear of Tillman’s sudden death, expressed words of condolences to Hester and the family and posted comments about what kind of person she was to them and the community on her Facebook page Wednesday.
April Harvey Johnson posted, “So, so sad today at the loss of a dear friend. I have many wonderful memories of being Donna’s neighbor. She was so good to me and my boys. Lots of laughter has been shared through the years. I am so thankful to have known her. Praying for her family. There will never be another Donna Tillman.”
Moons Pharmacy posted, “We are disheartened by the loss of Donna Tillman. We will miss the radiant smile she always greeted us with. Although she was in a hurry most of the time, she was never too busy to crack a joke or share a heartfelt moment with others. If you ever mentioned her beautiful daughter Brooke, her eyes would illuminate pride and joy; that is indeed what Brooke was to Donna. Tifton will miss Donna Tillman, but heaven must be rejoicing to have such a beloved soul.”
Funeral services for Tillman will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Tifton. The family will receive friends from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at Albritton-Beaumont Funeral Directors. Among Tillman’s survivors are her daughter, Elizabeth Brooke Hester of Tifton; her mother, Shirley Tillman; her father, Ronald Tillman; and her sister, Roxanne Anderson, all of Berlin.