Copeland Funeral Service

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Rachel T. Tiller, beloved wife to James Kelly Tiller, III and beloved mother to Josh K. Tiller and Jason “Jake” K. Tiller, passed away peacefully surrounded by family at the Medical University of South Carolina’s ICU on Tuesday, October 12, 2021, after a courageous battle against the effects and complications of rheumatoid arthritis. She was 77 years old.

Rachel was born to the late Edna Burleson Toncray and George Williams Toncray, Jr. on August 11, 1944 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (a.k.a. “The Secret City”). At the time, her father was working alongside Dr. Edward Teller on the Manhattan Project to produce the first nuclear weapons for World War II.

She grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee and graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School in 1962. She attended Lees-McRae College before transferring to Clemson University where she graduated in 1966 with a BA degree in History and minor in Biology. Rachel was married to Jim Tiller in 1967. In 1973 she and Jim moved to Hilton Head Island, SC, where she began her teaching career at May River Academy in Bluffton, SC. Their fraternal twin sons, Josh and Jake, were born in 1974.

Her passions included her family, friends, and her nearly 50-year career as a teacher (biology) and school administrator. Her career included teaching at May River Academy (1970s) in Bluffton, SC, Pinewood Preparatory School (1980s) in Summerville, SC, and Thomas Heyward Academy in Ridgeland, SC from 1989-2019.

For countless students and staff, Rachel’s classroom and office was a safe place to be themselves. She gave them confidence, connection, and counseling through her many years of teaching at Thomas Heyward Academy. She worked as a teacher and then lower school administrator at THA until retirement in 2019.

She “felt like a safe beacon that cared for her students, and she always helped anyone no matter what,” one former student wrote.

She was a dedicated, loyal teacher and lower school administrator that treated her students and staff sternly but fair. She commanded your utmost respect and was also caring and loving to everyone. She is an inspiration to many who have walked the halls of Thomas Heyward Academy.

She was a woman who was loved by many and will be sorely missed. She will always be treasured as “Gran” by her granddaughters Sarah, Kate, and Cora, who were the joy of her life.

Rachel is survived by her husband, James Kelly Tiller, III (Coosaw Point, Lady’s Island, SC), her brother George Williams (Louisa) Toncray, III (Kingsport, TN), her sons Josh K. (Melissa) Tiller (Bluffton, SC) and Jason “Jake” K. (Savanah) Tiller (St. Petersburg, FL), and proud grandmother of Sarah Tiller, Kate Tiller, and Cora Tiller. She was also a loving aunt to nieces Michelle T. (Dr. Phillip) Benton, Renee Toncray (Sam Proffitt), Christy T. (Ben) Stipes, Lindsay T (Joel) Mier, Whitney T Phillips, Cheryl Roland, Jackie Crum, Leslie Crum, and numerous grand nieces and nephews.

A private extended family graveside service will be held at the Robert Marvin designed Sacred Ground Cemetery (600 Newcastle Street, Beaufort, SC 29902 ).

Following the graveside service, a public service will be held at the Copeland Funeral Service (1 Copeland Drive, Beaufort, SC 29902) at 3:00 PM Sunday October 17, 2021. Both services will be conducted by the Rev. Daniel S. Burbage of St. Andrew by the Sea United Methodist Church of Hilton Head/Bluffton, SC.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Rheumatology Research Foundation ( ).

Warmhearted thanks to Rachel’s caregivers, Dr. H. Kevin Jones (former May River Academy Student), Dr. H. Lucious Laffitte, Jr., Dr. Charles Reitman, Dr. John L. Brittis, and numerous other doctors & nurses (some former students) at MUSC and Beaufort Memorial Hospital. Also, special thanks to Melissa Tiller, W. Gary Tiller and Susan Tiller for their love and support throughout this process.

Online Condolences

  1. Dan Beaman says:

    Jim, Josh, and Jake, we’re shocked and saddened to learn this! Please accept our deepest sympathy. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithfully departed, through the mercy of God, Rest In Peace and Rise In Glory

  2. Gina Scott says:

    Jim and Josh and your family, I send my deepest sympathy and prayers to all of you during this time of great loss. May God’s peace surround each of you.

  3. Barbara Barker says:

    When I went back to Thomas Heyward as the librarian in 1995, I always knew I had two people I could go to with any concerns, John Rogers and Rachel Tiller. That never changed during the 20 years I was there. Many days during the last few years before my retirement. I could see how difficult it became for Rachel to be there and many times I would wonder why she was there. But I knew it was because of her dedication and love for students and teaching. She was an inspiration to all of us and all of us are better people because she crossed our path. God will say, ” Well done” !

  4. Judy Culbertson Parket says:

    I am so sad to hear of Rachel’s passing. She was always such a fun person person to be with. I can see her swishing that ponytail and laughing. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

  5. David Tedder says:

    Jim and Josh, I was taken aback to read of Rachel’s passing, and am at a loss for words. I pray for you and your family in this time of loss, and that knowing such a sweet soul certainly is in a better place with the Lord will give you peace and solace.

  6. Mike & Lloyetta Atkins says:

    We were very saddened to hear of Rachael’s passing.
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  7. Elaine Wilcox says:

    Rachel was always one of my favorite friends and hair customer. So sorry to hear the news of her passing. I send deepest of sympathy to you and family.

  8. Allen Nettles says:

    Jake and Josh I’m so sorry to hear the passing of your mom. She was one of my favorite teachers at THA. Rachel and her beautiful smile will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time.

  9. Rebecca R Mellander says:

    Jim, Jake and Josh — just learned this sad news. Rachel was a lovely and talented lady, devoted to her family, friends and students. I will always remember the many good times I spent with her (and you all). Please know that I am thinking of you at this difficult time.

  10. Robin Dease says:

    Bro. Josh,
    So sorry to hear about the loss of your mom. Please accept my deepest condolences.
    May God peace be with you and yours during this time of remembrance and celebration of Sis. Rachel’s life.
    Blessings to you and yours,

  11. Judy Nash Timmer says:

    Jim and Josh, so sorry to learn of your loss. Sending you much love as y’all walk this journey.

  12. Luann Sauls says:

    So sorry to hear about your loss. She was such a great lady.

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