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Dr. Otis E. Tillman Sr.

A&T Grad has Building Named in His Honor

Some 50 years after graduating from North Carolina A&T State University, Dr. Otis E. Tillman Sr. had his medical legacy immortalized in the city of High Point where he practiced for more than four decades.

On Feb. 26, the Guilford County Commissioners proclaimed the mental health building on South Centennial Street would be named the Dr. Otis E. Tillman Sr. Mental Health Building. This is quite an honor for a man who wasn’t able to practice in white hospitals early on in his career.

“In those days, I couldn’t go to the University of North Carolina for medical school. My choices were Howard or Meharry,” he said.

The Wadesboro native chose Howard and had a portion of his out of state tuition subsidized by the state. In return, Tillman had to come back to North Carolina to work in a small town for three years.

After his internship at Kate Bitting Reynolds Hospital for African Americans, Howard moved to High Point where he practiced for 46 years before he retired.

“I just fell in love with it,” Tillman said.

While Tillman has built a solid career in medicine, it is not something he worked toward all his life. The son of a school teacher and a carpenter with a third grade education didn’t know he could become a doctor.

“Being a doctor came up kind of late,” he said. “Growing up in a small town you hoped but you never dreamed of it.”

After graduation from high school, Tillman loaded his belongings in the back of a family friend’s truck and followed his brother’s footsteps to N.C. A&T. Though his background in science was weak, he majored in organic chemistry and biological science.

“When I got to A&T, I was behind. Being with students who had more ambition than I did, it kind of rubbed off on me,” he said.

As an undergraduate, Tillman and his brother, Daniel, both worked nights at the Sedgefield Inn their entire four years. Some nights, the janitor would leave the chemistry lab open so that Tillman could complete his organic chemistry experiments.

“My studies at A&T made it possible for me to compete,” he said. “A&T gave me, a poor, ill-prepared student a chance to work hard, study hard to get a college education.”

That is one major reason Tillman has made it a point to give back to the university. In addition to his 25-consecutive years of service on the university’s Board of Trustees, the longest in A&T’s history, he raised $28,000 at his retirement dinner to establish a scholarship.

“I figured there might be some other students in the state of North Carolina who could have that same opportunity if it’s granted to them,” he said.

In addition to having the building named after him and establishing the scholarship, Tillman has served on the board of trustees for the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority, the Carl Chavis YMCA, the A&T Foundation, the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, UNC-Pembroke and A&T. He was also chairman of the board for First United Baptist Church and the High Point Urban Renewal Commission.

Tillman also participated in a stand in at an A&R root beer store where he was arrested and helped to bail out some students who participated with him. He is a 2001 recipient of the Brotherhood/Sisterhood Citation Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice and he has authored two books – “A Prescription for the Soul: Prayers and Meditations,” with a foreword by Maya Angelou and “A Physician’s Prayers and Meditation.”

“I saw many cases where I knew it had to be a supreme power,” he said. “There were cancer cases where I had to tell people I thought they had six months to live and they’d live for years and years. When I used to make house calls I used to sometimes kneel and pray with the old sister in the corner. I would pray for the lord to guide my hands and my mind to do the right thing.”

Those prayers and meditations guided him through nearly five decades of medical advancements and medical oddities and extremes. His time at A&T and as a family physician enabled him to do something that was important to him – make educational opportunities available to his children and grandchildren.

Now, he spends his time enjoying his family – wife, Barbara, their four children and nine grandchildren.

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