Thoughts about Tilla

Tilla Durr

Tilla Durr

A unique voice went silent last week.

Virginia (Tilla) Durr, who spent a lifetime as a champion of civil rights and fought to protect the less fortunate, died on Thursday of a massive heart attack. She was 77.

Advocacy was Tilla’s life. Raised in Alabama, her parents were closely connected to Dr. Martin Luther King, and were friends of Rosa Parks, who the family hired as a seamstress. A pianist and a choir singer, Tilla spent many hours with her mother at Dr. King’s church, according to her sister, Lulah Colan of Wisconsin. Even at the age of 15, Tilla became completely absorbed in the civil rights movement and “had a full understanding of the issues,” Lulah said via a phone conversation with The News Monday.

Tilla spent her adult years as a social worker in the Northeast, helping school kids in Washington, D.C., and working with low-income residents across the area, former sister-in-law Kay Scheidler said. She described Tilla as “a tremendous listener.”

“Tilla really tried to follow her parents’ moral and ethical teachings to always do the right thing, especially to support disenfranchised people and other people who are marginalized,” Scheidler said.

Tilla was never afraid to openly speak her mind, nor would she shy away from the chance to bend one’s ears either about the top story of the day or about the plight of those folks struggling to make ends meet. Over the years, she opened her heart and soul to the entire Lake Region community through her weekly letters to The News. Yes, most were too long in length, which annoyed some readers yet was enjoyed by others. I rarely attempted to cut Tilla’s prose to pull at least close to the 600-word count limit. I gave up. She understood. I frequently sent letters back to her via e-mail and asked her to edit them to a reasonable length. Tilla struggled with that request because she always felt there was so much to say on so many important issues. Her focus was bringing the financial and psychological struggles of those “living on the edge” — which she freely admitted she was one of those economically challenged individuals — to the forefront. Life is hard in today’s world, no question, but Tilla felt it was her job to remind readers there are some who teeter daily on going hungry, getting sick because they are unable to afford needed medication and shiver inside cold homes because they lack money to heat it properly. Most people don’t see these struggles because they are busy with their own hectic lives, but Tilla knew many, including herself, who found every day a major challenge.

Tilla at a younger age

Tilla at a younger age

I remember talking with Tilla just a short time ago as she ate her breakfast at her familiar corner table spot at Beth’s Café. Despite all the negative news stories she pointed out that dominated the front page of the morning newspaper, Tilla remained hopeful that things could change if people simply came together as one. People need to change, see the good in all and be willing to accept diverse opinions. Tilla understood that she, too, had to change. Her sister, Lulah, sensed a change in reading Tilla’s published letters. She was more tolerable of others’ opinions, even offering words of praise for longtime nemesis, BN columnist Tom McLaughlin. “She felt it was time that we stop building walls and instead tear them down.”

Tilla made her opinions known, for better or worse. A special voice has been lost. As Stan Tupaj, owner of Kezar Realty in Lovell said, “The letters page of The Bridgton News will never be the same, nor the counter at Rosie’s.”

— Wayne E. Rivet, Publisher

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