Mary Alice Tillotson came to the door of her Williamsburg home Thursday with a wide grin. She had just finished baking dozens of homemade cookies for her grandson, Jay Barbour, to take to Virginia Tech when he returned to Blacksburg this week.
As she sat on the front porch, she began recounting her years in Williamsburg as a mother, teacher, cook, tutor and soccer proponent. Quite a legacy for Tillotson, who recently celebrated her 94th birthday. She is an active member of Williamsburg Baptist Church, still drives her car around town and does her own grocery shopping. After speaking with the gregarious nonagenarian, that's not surprising.
Tillotson is the mother of four daughters, grandmother to seven and great-grandmother to eight. She is still a sought-after cook, a skill she had ample opportunity to showcase when her husband Rex, worked for the College of William and Mary several decades ago. That's when she became an honorary "housemother" for one their fraternities, Lambda Chi.
Nita Barbour, Mary Alice's daughter, said it was common to come home from school and see her mom in the kitchen cooking up a large homemade meal.
"When the boys came to the house, they came hungry," Barbour said with a laugh, adding, "My sisters and I always wanted brothers, and we got some."
Tillotson is still in touch with many of the men, some who send her flowers on Mother's Day as their honorary "mom," Barbour added.
Tillotson's ebullient personality makes her approachable and popular. Church members enjoy her sweet desserts and neighbors often turn to her for help with their culinary projects.
Jean Babb, who lives a few doors down, came onto the porch carrying a bag of sugar. "I wanted to return this," she said, handing the bag to Tillotson.
"Jean was making fig preserves and was short on sugar," Tillotson said with a hearty laugh. "And don't you know I was making something the other day and was short an egg, and went flying to Jean to get one."
Through the years, Tillotson taught at several schools including Lafayette High. After retiring, she kept up her skills, tutoring kids from various schools in greater Williamsburg in math. While teaching at Lafayette, she became involved in initiating a school soccer program. Seems the Tillotsons were hosting a an exchange student from Bolivia, Edgar Murillo, who missed playing the sport. She called then William and Mary soccer coach Al Albert to ask if Murillo could work out with the team.
"He said 'Why don't you get a team together at Lafayette?' " Tillotson recalled. "So, I put up a notice. It was amazing how many boys signed up."
Albert, who now works in development at W&M, corroborated.
"That sounds about right," Albert said, adding that he enjoyed getting to know Tillotson during those years. "She is a lovely person, she is very warm."
Despite all of her accomplishments, for her family, there is nothing like the sweets that come out of Tillotson's kitchen.
"She makes the best desserts," Jay Barbour said. "They taste like they are made in heaven."