North Carolina’s state and American flags are at half-staff Monday in honor of former state Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, who passed away Saturday at the age of 82. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered flags to be lowered until Tuesday at sunset. Tillman served in the N.C. Senate from 2003 to 2020, representing North Carolina’s 29th and 26th districts.

Senate leader Phil Berger, at lectern, announces a $1 billion tax cut at a March 16, 2017, press conference. With him are, from left, Sens. Jerry Tillman, Tommy Tucker, Andrew Brock, and Warren Daniel. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

“Jerry was highly regarded in Raleigh and back in Randolph County for being a dedicated educator and leader,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, in a statement following Tillman’s death. “He played a significant role in shaping the policies that made North Carolina the best state in the nation. Jerry was truly larger than life. He was never afraid to share his thoughts on a particular bill and would often lighten the mood by regaling us with tales about music, racing, and baseball. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones.” 

Known for his commitment to his constituents and those who serve the nation in military service, Tillman was majority whip and was second in seniority in the Senate chamber behind Berger during his final Senate years. He was also known for his conservatism, but personal connections with members on both sides of the aisle.

In 2021, Sen. Mike Woodward, D-Durham, talked about their “Night Owl Caucus” on a podcast and his duets with Tillman sharing vintage country music.

“One year at the Tomato Sandwich luncheon, we stood out there in one of those flower pots there and we sang ‘Homegrown Tomatoes,’ the old Guy Clark song,” Woodard said at the time. “We would duet many times on many other songs, but from that shared love of country music we developed a great friendship.”

In 2020, Tillman announced that he would retire to spend more time with his nine grandchildren. His wife of 57 years, Marion, passed away in 2019.

Before being elected to the Senate, Tillman was a teacher and school principal.

“All my time I’ve wanted to improve teachers’ and principals’ salaries, and to base bonuses for principals on merit. That was my bill, my plan, with the help of others,” he told the Courier-Tribune in 2020.

Tillman also fought to keep taxes low and to keep the legislature’s policy focus on growing the state economy. In more recent years, he was working to keep Asheboro’s hospital, Randolph Health, from closing after its early 2020 bankruptcy.

Tillman was originally from Archdale. and his memorial arrangements are being made by a funeral home in his hometown.