Dorothy Elease Dillard Gilmer, beloved mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend to all whom crossed her path, passed peacefully on July 17, 2018 at the age of 100 years old with her youngest grandchild by her side.
Dorothy was born on October 4, 1917, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She was the oldest daughter to James Dillard and Betty Scott. Dorothy had two sisters, Lucy and Maude, and one brother Jimmy.
In 2012, Dorothy published a book on her life and the history of her family, where she spoke of a family theme of always caring for others and “lifting as we climb.” This is surely a theme that permeated every aspect of Dorothy’s life. An early example of this was serving as a teaching assistant in her one room school house, which served grades 1 – 8. Dorothy had already learned how to read and write and so she was naturally eager to help others learn too. Dorothy valued education as an important pathway to success for African Americans living in the Jim Crow South. She has many fond memories of her childhood – being exposed to Black artists, writers and historians – growing up on the campus of the historically black university, Alcorn College, where her father was the campus physician.
Dorothy attended Talledega College in Alabama. There, she joined the first African American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, where she served as bassilus (president.) She’d go on to meet her husband Dr. Roy Gilmer. Upon graduation, Dorothy and Roy attended Meharry Medical College, where Dorothy received her masters in medical technology. She would go on to teach back home in Mississippi before her and Roy moved North for more opportunity and to start a family in New Haven, Connecticut. There, she had her two children – Rosalind and Stephen. Roy and Dorothy were active members in their community and held a strong commitment to service. Roy was the president of the NAACP and they always helped others in the community with food and housing. In 1957, Roy died suddenly of a heart attack. This tragic incident would forever develop an inner strength in Dorothy and shape her as a fighter. She became both a father and a mother to her two children, a lifelong protector of them, and committed to supporting them and her entire family in all their endeavours.
Fiercely independent and a rock to everyone in her life, Dorothy was the matriarch in her family, a maven in the community and a lifelong learner and teacher. She held leadership positions in many prestigious community based organizations, including, the Links, The Girls Friends Inc, and Jack and Jill. She traveled the world and collected art and cultural pieces along her journey that adorned her beautiful home. She loved jazz music and often visited jazz clubs, where she saw some of her favorites, the great Duke Elington and Ella Fitzgerald just to name a few.
Staunchly committed to her own education, Dorothy went on to get a second masters degree in her 30s in social work at Yeshiva University in New York. She would go on to teach at Westchester community college and also became a therapist. Dorothy later remarried, Judge Robert Ross, where the were very active in the Westchester community. Dorothy worked until the age of 81 years old.
Dorothy and Robert later re-located to Eugene Oregon to be closer to family She remained a very active volunteer in the community. Dorothy was committed to serving others until the day she died. She was deeply dedicated her family, her students and her friends. Nearly everyone who met Dorothy, she instantly formed a friendship with. She was fascinated by the many cultures, perspectives and experiences that make up this country and staunchly committed to building unity in the face of division. She moved through the world with the gift of generosity, giving support of many kinds – loving words, advice, wisdom, time and resources – to help others gain sustainability and follow their dreams. Dorothy held people to the highest of standards and believed that everyone was capable of achieving the greatest of things. She was especially committed to her children and her grandchildren and was the matriarch of the family. She moved through the world with a deep sense of care, love and devotion for her family. This legacy can be seen in the close bonds of her grandchildren and great grandchildren and the commitment, they hold, above all else to each other.
In a letter she wrote to her grandchildren in 1992, Dorothy wrote: “I want to encourage you, my dear, dear grandsons and grand dauhters to be all that you can be. In order to do that you will have to find out who you are. Each of you has a very unique core. Find it and fulfill it.”
Dorothy is deeply missed and survived by her daughter, Rosalind Gilmer Reece, her daughter-in-law Sara Gilmer, nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.