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Beverly Tillman Isn’t A Rocket Scientist

But She's Close

NASA featured Beverly Tillman, in this black/white photograph, working in her lab at the space center in Houston. Much of her work was considered “top secret” and, still true to her word, will not speak of the work. Mrs. Tillman was a very important person to the United States Space Program.

Ever since Alan Sheppard became the first American to go into space in Freedom 7, on May 5, 1961, until today the phrase ? he or she is no rocket scientist? has been used to say that the person isn?t quite bright. It also means that rocket scientists are the smartest people alive. Have you ever met a rocket scientist? We don?t have exactly a ?Rocket Scientist? living here in Teague but she was a Research Scientist at NASA. She has a quick wit, likes to laugh, and has children and grandchildren just like everyone else. She does, however, consider herself an ?egg head,? as she calls it.

Mrs. Beverly Tillman is one of the most interesting people one could ever hope to meet. The first time I interviewed her; I have to admit that her life story was so interesting that I forgot to keep writing and had to go back again. Mrs. Tillman has researched her family history back to the 1600s when they came to America from England, Whales and France.

Her forefathers were a heroic and patriotic bunch fighting in the War of 1812, the Revolutionary War, the Spanish American War, the Civil War, and the battle of San Jacinto when her great great grandfather fought next to General Sam Houston.

Her family settled in Brewers Prairie.

Mrs. Tillman was born in 1933 to Alvie Lee (Buck) Jones and Pauline Bolster Jones. She was one of twins, Barbara and Beverly. Later a second set of twins would grace their household, Alvie Lee Jr. (Sonny) and Pauline (Pie). Mrs. Tillman?s twin, Barbara, was a Professor of English at the University of Mexico City, Mexico for 40 years. She was retired for two years when she passed away. Pie lives next door to Mrs. Tillman in Teague.

Beverly Jones Tillman graduated from South Texas Jr. College and then to the University of Houston where she received her Bachelor?s degree in Histology/Microbiology in 1952. She went on to the Baylor College of Medicine and found Research to be what she wanted to make her life?s work.

Polio was rampant during the 1950s and Dr. Jonas Salk was one of many scientists working on an immunization for the disease. He is the one credited for finding a vaccination for Polio, however the injections really didn?t work very well. Dr. Albert Sabin worked for 24 years and in1953 developed an oral vaccine using the dead virus that worked much better. Mrs. Tillman worked with Dr. Sabin to develop this vaccine.

She also worked with the United States Government designing a sonar system that would not bounce off of whales and give a false positive for other subs. This was developed for the United States Navy.

In 1957 Beverly Jones met and married Marion I. Tillman who had just been discharged from the U.S. Navy. Mr. Tillman had been a Hard Hat diver for the Navy and had fought in the Korean Conflict. He had Bachelor?s and Masters degrees from the University of Houston. Together they were hired to work on the space program at NASA.

Mr. Tillman?s job was to recover the capsule after splash down and make sure that nothing that came from outer space was touched by our atmosphere. The men, the suits, the inside of the capsule and anything inside of it had to be examined before it could even touch the air on Earth. It was then that everything was taken to Mrs. Tillman for her to do the research necessary to make sure that everything was safe to bring into our environment. ?It was a very exciting job in a very exciting time,? said Mrs. Tillman. She was actually taking her shift at Mission Control when Apollo 13 was in such trouble. She said, ?Those men never once panicked.? She was there for thirteen trips and returns from space.

In 1978 the Mrs. Tillman was forced to quit working for NASA when she had a series of five strokes. Following the strokes Mrs. Tillman was left having to relearn everything including how to talk, walk and eat. This was devastating. Since then she has had a quad bypass with stints and a huge bout with cancer. Through all of this she has been a fighter?always there for her family.

Mr. and Mrs. Tillman have a daughter and a son. Dr. Lynn Tillman is a Teague High School graduate with the Class of 1976 and Valedictorian of her class. She earned her Ph.D in Cognoscente Psychology from the University of Texas. She decided a few years ago to go to law school and is in her final year. She would like to be a Children?s Advocate, helping the ones who cannot help themselves. Dr. Lynn and her late husband, Attorney Robert Dowdy, have a son. Dawson Dowdy is 14 years and in the 11th grade at Houston High School for the Performing Arts. He is a music composer and has played piano in concert with stars of different genres. His first music teacher was Mary Lee of Teague. Dawson Dowdy?s music can be heard online.

Dr. Lee Mark Tillman graduated from Teague High School as Valedictorian of the Class of 1980. He received his Bachelor?s degree in Chemical Engineering and his Masters degree from Texas A&M University (some interesting football watching in that home) and his Ph.D from Auburn University. Dr. Mark left Exxon Mobil as President and is currently the President and Chief Executive Officer for Marathon Oil. Mrs. Tillman told, that someone said he had to quit automobile racing now that he is the head of Marathon Oil. She put her hands up to her cheeks and said, ? Oh my!! I never knew he was racing cars! I would have had another heart attack!? Dr. Mark is married to Dr. Ty Harrell Tillman who has her Ph.D in Education. They have a five-year-old son, Trace Harrell Tillman.

Because of the Tillman family?s strong belief in education, they began the Marion I. Tillman Presidential Endowed Scholarship , in honor of the Tillman patriarch, and the Tillman Family Presidential Endowed Scholarship. The scholarships are given to deserving high school students who have an interest in the field of science. If the students do well throughout their college years their education will be paid for by the scholarship. ?There are many very generous donors within the foundations,? said Mrs. Tillman.

An entire book could easily be written about Mrs. Tillman and her family, including her mother who always had a big pot of soup or stew and biscuits for the Hobos that came through Teague on the train during the depression. Mrs. Tillman is an amazing lady that I, for one, am proud to know. Isn?t it great to have such talented people live in our town!

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