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Art Tillman, former Southold Town Democratic Chairman, dies at 79

Art Tillman, the former Southold Town Democratic chairman who was involved in many other efforts in a town he loved, died on Monday. He was 79.

“He was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known,” said Dan Ross, a Mattituck attorney and former Southold Town councilman.

“He opened up his home, he helped people get around the community and he contributed to help organizations.”

Mr. Tillman’s charity wasn’t just “helping someone across the street,” Mr Ross said. “He would help people for a 10-year period. If they needed a place to live, he would let them stay in his house. I’m the president of San Simeon and he gave generously to that organization.”

Mr. Ross said Mr. Tillman often helped people without drawing a lot of attention to it.

“He was the classic Good Samaritan,” Mr. Ross said.

“He was a very passionate man,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski. “He had such a big heart and he was very compassionate. He was always trying to help somebody, and beyond his official capacity as party chair.”

Mr. Tillman was a retired history teacher who taught in the North Babylon district.

Two of his students were Steve Bellone, currently the Suffolk County executive, and Richard Schaeffer, currently the county Democratic leader and Babylon Town supervisor, Mr. Ross said.

Mr. Tillman served in the U.S. Army and was a member of the Mattituck American Legion’s Raymond Cleaves Post 861 for 22 years, according to Ron Breuer, the unit’s first vice commander and adjutant.

Mr. Tillman was the post’s chaplain for the past two years and he was a key part in the effort to revive the American Legion post when its membership was low and it appeared it might close, Mr. Breuer said.

“He’s the one who helped bring the post back together,” Mr. Breuer said. “He was also very active with the events we had, such as visiting the seniors in San Simeon.”

Mr. Ross said Mr. Tillman also was active in the Mattituck Lions Club’s Leo Club, which comprises Mattituck High School students.

“If I could backtrack for 30 years and think of all the projects he got involved in … they were numerous,” Mr. Ross said.

“I am in complete shock,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, a Republican, upon learning of Mr. Tillman’s death. “Art was one of my closest friends. I knew him long before I got involved in politics. Always a gentleman and always someone who had a deep commitment to the people of the community. I am very upset by his passing. The town will never be the same without him.”

“It’s just a tragic loss for Southold Democrats and the whole community,” said Kathryn Casey Quigley, who succeeded Mr. Tillman as Southold Democratic chair in January 2018.

Ms. Tillman held the position for five years.

“He was beloved by so many and was the most kindhearted, gentle soul,” she said. “He was great during the transition. He took me in right away and was eager to have my involvement and he was so supportive … He always loved to strategize. He was always thinking.”

Mr. Tillman’s family will receive friends on Thursday, May 9, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Mattituck.

Funeral services will be held Friday, May 10, at 10 a.m. at Advent Lutheran Church on Legion Avenue in Mattituck, officiated by the Rev. George Summers.

Interment will follow at New Bethany Cemetery across the street from the church.

The Mattituck American Legion will have a service for Mr. Tillman on Thursday, May 9, at 7:30 p.m. at DeGriest-Grattan Funeral Home.

Caption: Southold Democratic chairman Art Tillman gives an impassioned speech after a sweeping defeat in 2011. (Credit: file photo)

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