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Friday, February 23, 2024


Oct. 21, 2003 – The chairs will be set out, the baby grand piano will be open and the sound and light systems will be on in Tillett Gardens on Saturday evening, Oct. 25, not for a concert but for a memorial service for Rhoda Tillett, who hosted so many programs, performances, competitions and, yes, memorial services for others in that very venue.
The public is invited to join in remembering Tillett's life and contributions to the community in the gathering, to begin at 8 p.m.
The service is being held in the setting of tropical flora and fauna where Tillett lived and worked for 43 years "because she put her heart and soul into the garden," Eric Tillett said. "It was her life, and it should be where we remember her."
Rabbi Arthur Starr of the Hebrew Synagogue of St. Thomas, of which Tillett was a member, will lead the service. Music will be provided by pianists Sally Smith, Rebecca Faulkner and JoSandra Jones James and flutist Levi Farrell. There will be remarks by family and friends and a member of the board of Arts Alive, the presenting arm of the not-for-profit Tillett Foundation.
The service will be an occasion to remember Tillett and "what she accomplished and the people she affected in a positive way," Eric Tillett said. "Many people have great memories of her and some want to share them with others."
"Mom did not want a 'regular funeral,' as nothing in her life was 'regular,'" he said. "She was an exceptional person who cared very much for St. Thomas and the people who live here."
Tillett and her husband, silkscreen artist Jim Tillett, moved to St. Thomas and purchased the abandoned farm that became Tillett Gardens in 1959. For 28 years she operated a boutique on the property that sold ready-to-wear clothing and bolts of cloth bearing her husband's silkscreen designs. In 1980, she organized the first Arts Alive arts and crafts fair, inaugurating a tradition that would continue until 2002, when she retired and handed the event over to others to continue with her blessings.
In 1988, she introduced the Classics in the Garden concert series — recitals held under the stars in Tillett Gardens. The series will open its 17th season in November. In 1988, she closed the boutique and opened Tillett Gallery to showcase her husband's silkscreen art as well as work by other artists. In 1990, she saw a dream come true — the first annual young people's Classical Music Competition, an event that would draw ever-increasing participation from throughout the territory and continue through last year.
All told, she produced more than 70 concerts over 16 seasons, 60 festivals showcasing some 2,000 local artists and artisans and 200 local musicians, and 14 years of music competitions attracting in excess of a thousand entries.
Among the many recognitions Tillett received for her contributions to the arts were a tribute at the St. Thomas Arts Council's 1989 Beaux Arts Ball, a medal conferred by Gov. Roy L. Schneider at the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts ceremony in 1997, and the 2000 Community Service Award from the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce
Rhoda Tillett died Aug. 11 in Raleigh, North Carolina, where Eric and his family live, following a long battle with cancer. She is survived by Eric, his wife Kellie and their children Dexter and Hudson; her son Boris, his wife Beth and his daughter Rachel; and her sister, Emily Rosen, and her two children. All will be at the service, as will Tillett's longtime friend Reina Cohen.
Those not able to attend but wishing to honor her memory are invited to make a contribution to Arts Alive. Checks made out to The Tillett Foundation may be mailed to Tillett Art Gallery, 4126 Estate Anna's Retreat, St. Thomas VI 00802.

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