Virginia ‘Tilla’ Durr, 77
Virginia “Tilla” Durr, 77, of Bridgton, died suddenly of a heart attack Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, while attending a women’s group meeting at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Her parents, Montgomery, Ala. residents Virginia and Clifford Durr, took a stand against segregation and supported the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s. During the 1960s, they housed civil rights organizers who were traveling through the South.
Tilla’s parents bailed Rosa Parks out of jail after she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus on Dec. 1, 1955. Tilla passed away on the 61st anniversary of Parks’ arrest.
Rights-era activist Jean Graetz said that period of strife took a toll on young Tilla Durr.
“She was kind of shunned at school because of her parents being involved, and they actually took her out of school and got a scholarship for her to go to a private school up north,” Graetz said. “She had vowed she would never come back to Montgomery.”
That changed in recent years.
Durr returned in 2015 to speak at an annual lecture series that was named in honor of her parents. It was held at Auburn Montgomery in the same month that the area was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights March.
“There has been a revival in looking at civil rights and we have to keep moving forward and can’t backslide,” Tilla said at the event.
Earlier this year, she spoke at an Alabama State University symposium named for Jean and Robert Graetz.
Jean Graetz said Tilla was “delighted to be back in Montgomery” after years of staying away from the city.
Tilla spent 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 Durr 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 later made Sweden and recently Bridgton her home. She volunteered at the Sweden Food Pantry, and was a vocal advocate for “those less fortunate.” A weekly letter writer to the Bridgton News, Tilla offered sharp opinions on a variety of matters close to her heart. She also spoke at various group meetings, including the Socrates Café at the Waterford Library, at which she moderated last month’s discussion.
NewSouth Books editor Randall Williams said Tilla was working on a manuscript about her experiences in Montgomery and how those shaped her life. Williams spoke alongside Durr at two Montgomery events this year.
“I think she was quite appreciative of the amount of change that came to Montgomery in the years since she moved away,” Williams said.
In a 2015 letter to the Montgomery Advertiser, Tilla wrote about her memories of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and how its themes mirrored the lives of her parents. She also wrote about the need to properly understand the era’s complicated history in order to understand “how to bring about peace and justice.”
“We cannot change what happened in the past, but we sure can learn from it, to make better decisions for ourselves, both in the present and in the future,” Tilla wrote.
Tilla is survived by her son, Ian Parker, and her two sisters, Lucy Hackney and Lulah Colan.
A service will be held this Saturday, Dec. 10, at 3 p.m. at St. Peter’s Church. People wishing to make a donation in Tilla’s memory may send checks to the Bridgton Food Pantry, PO Box 207, Bridgton, ME 04009.