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 https://www.tccbeaufort.com/ ).
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 (https://www.rheumresearch.org/ ).
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.