Louise Tillotson might have been mistaken for royalty. She had a British accent, a sophisticated demeanor and an intellect that could keep pace with that of presidents and diplomats. All of that was evident to everyone who met her. What is less well-known is that Louise Tillotson could also be whimsical, that she once built her own home and her own business, and that she supported projects large and small in the North Country without expectation of fanfare or public gratitude.
“She was an amazing lady — a very private person, to start with,” said Joan Shatney of Clarksville, a longtime friend and fellow British ex-pat.
“She was a very intelligent, well read, well-rounded lady,” Shatney said.
“She had done terrific things that she didn’t talk about.”
Louise Tillotson’s son, Julian Erde, said his mother kept a list of every book she’d ever read. She was, he said, “knowledgeable about many things and interested in everything.”
Lousie Tillotson, who died in 2007 at age 92, was the wife of Neil Tillotson of Dixville Notch, founder of the Tillotson Corporation and owner of The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel.
A world traveler
Louise Tillotson was born in London, where her father ran a hotel. She emigrated to New York City after World War II and worked for a time for the British Broadcasting Corporation. She then moved to British Columbia to be close to her two sisters. There, she lived on an island, where she built her own house and did her own hunting.
“She told me how she built a house with her own hands on an island off Vancouver,” said Ben Gayman, Louise’s friend and attorney.
While in Canada, Mrs. Tillotson started a business designing and selling handbags. That business eventually brought her back to New York City, where she became a manager for Elizabeth Arden, first in New York and then in Boston.
She met Neil Tillotson on a train between Boston and New York.
He was as home-grown and unassuming a New Englander as Louise was a sophisticated and refined “Old” Englander. They were married in 1958.
“Certainly, a great deal of his thoughts were shaped by her, and a great number of her thoughts were shaped by him,” said Neil Tillotson’s son Rick.
“They were in tune with each other.”
Louise and Neil Tillotson traveled widely. Louise accompanied her husband on his extensive business travels; she was especially fond of Guatemala, where the Tillotson Corporation had a rubber plantation.
Julian Erde said, “I don’t think she ever had a suitcase fully unpacked.”
At home in the North Country
For all her fondness of international travel, Louise Tillotson loved the North Country, and it quickly became her home. “They had houses in many places and places that they stayed in for longer periods of time…” said Rick Tillotson. “But they only had one place they considered ‘home.’”
And that was the North Country.
“In between stories of world travels, she would just as easily slip into the small town banter,” said Ben Gayman. “You’d think she was one of the neighbors in Colebrook. She knew people in Colebrook and was keenly aware of their personal lives and how things were going, and where she could help or pitch in.”
“In the end, I think that she took the North Country to her heart not just because Mr. Tillotson felt this way,” said Steve Barba, longtime managing partner of The Balsams,
“She took these people to her heart.”
Joan Shatney remembers that her friend was understated in her demeanor, but also loved to laugh — at old movies, at her husband’s jokes. And she liked to help her neighbors and community.
When the church was having a Christmas party for children, Shatney says, Louise would ask what was needed—and provide it.
“Anything that anybody needed help with, she was front and center — with no fanfare at all. She was just in the background. They both were like that,” said Shatney.
“She would give you the shirt off her back. But you wouldn’t know it was she giving you the shirt.”
Boosting good teachers
In 2006, Louise Tillotson established the Louise Tillotson Fellowship Fund through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. The Fellowship has the dual purpose of retaining good teachers in North Country schools — and raising public awareness about the value of excellence in education.
“Her interest in the fellowship was to give the teachers in the North Country the opportunity to go and gain skills that they could bring back and pass to their peers,” said Gayman. “She wanted to encourage good teachers to get better and then pass it around…”
“She had great confidence in the fact that a strong education system would boost the community as a whole.”