DATAW ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA – Shirley Gleason Dillon, a vivacious redhead, lifelong volunteer and leader, passed away on September 28, 2013. Her zest for life, interest in preserving history and bettering the communities in which she lived made her a leader of many organizations both in Lake Forest, Illinois and then in Beaufort, South Carolina.
One of four red-haired sisters, Shirley was born on July 7, 1933 in Rossville, Georgia, a town near Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Ruby Jane Walker Gleason and Frank Milton Gleason, who was a prominent attorney in Northwest Georgia. She attended the Girls Preparatory School (GPS) in Chattanooga where she formed long and lasting friendships. She attended the University of Georgia, served as President of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and met her husband of 58 years, a tall and handsome Sigma Chi named Bob Dillon. She loved to recount stories about student life in the early 1950's on the Georgia campus, like holding friend Sonny Seiler's first bulldog, UGA, on her lap.
Fresh out of college and newly married, her first job was a one-year teaching stint at Gordon Lee High School in Chickamauga, Georgia. She was so beloved by the Class of 1956 and her single year of teaching so memorable, she was a honored at their high school reunion – 50 years later.
Shirley and Bob lived in Lake Forest, Illinois for 30 years, ultimately retiring to Dataw Island in 1995. Shirley loved being in the South again and fully embraced many organizations in the low country. She served as President of the Friends of the Beaufort County Library and was active in the P.E.O. Sisterhood, a women's philanthropic organization that provides grants for women's education. Proud of her southern heritage, she was actively engaged in Daughters of the American Revolution, the Colonial Dames of the 17th Century, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She was co-founder of the Heritage Foundation.
Shirley's talents were many and varied. She was an accomplished golfer, tennis player, equestrian, dancer and pianist. Shirley was the life of every party, and was happiest banging out a song on the piano surrounded by family and friends or cutting a jitterbug or tap dance on the kitchen floor. The greatest gift she gave to her children and grandchildren was the confidence to believe they could do or be anything they wanted. She taught them to be resourceful, determined, graceful, and to lead by example. She had a love for life that was infectious, and she shared it generously with everyone she knew.
Shirley is survived by her husband Bob, her three children Elizabeth (Jeffrey) Sharp (Chicago, IL), Robert Jay (Cindy) Dillon, III (Winnetka, IL), and Catherine (Tom) Driscoll (Lake Bluff, IL); her seven grandchildren Melissa, Maggie and Nicole Dillon; Dillon and Catherine Sharp; and Sean and Gwen Driscoll; and her sister Gwendolyn (James) Lester (Augusta, GA). She is preceded in death by her parents Ruby and Frank Gleason, and her sisters Elaine Funderburg and Reggie Russell.
A memorial service will be held at the First Presbyterian Church of Beaufort on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 1 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to the Friends of the Beaufort County Library (311 South Street, Beaufort, SC 29920) or the Verdier House Fund (P.O. Box 11, Beaufort, SC, 29920).