I am an Elk - Meet Harold Tillman
When it's Friday night, you are sure to find him volunteering somewhere.
Harold Tillman, Jr has always had a sense of obligation to his community. His journey from childhood to the present has been filled with many examples of giving back, and as an Elk, he feels that now will be the greatest reflection of his passion for doing for others.
The oldest of two children born to Harold Tillman, Sr., and Sheila Tillman, Harold was raised on the east side of Pascagoula, Mississippi in what is known in the community as Bayou Cassotte. He attended primary school at Fair Elementary where he played on his first football team, the Falcons, as a center and linebacker. At Colmer Junior High School, Harold moved to middle linebacker and fullback for the Cougars as they were known then. Once at Pascagoula High School, he played defensive end, but only through the 11th grade. “I was five foot something and the guys competing for that spot were over six feet,” Harold explains as to why he hung up his cleats. But only as a player.
From about the ninth grade, Harold worked for Jerry Lee’s Grocery on Ingalls Ave, “I was one of Jerry’s kids,” he laughs. But during the summers, he would often work with his grandfather, Captain Blackie Tillman aboard the shrimp boat the Amanda Marie. “I’ve shrimped from Alabama to Louisiana. I loved pulling up to the marshes around 2:00 in the afternoon and fishing for alligator gar,” he remembers.
When Harold graduated from high school in 1987, he began coaching pee wee football for the Pascagoula Youth Football League by that next season. He also began coaching girls’ softball. And while he worked in different places to support his coaching habit, Harold says, “I didn’t know what direction to go in and I floundered for a bit.” His father Harold Sr. had been in the Mississippi Army National Guard and his uncle, Chuck Ard, had been in the Army. Harold had choices to make. He did well on the ASVAB and was recruited by multiple branches. Ultimately, he chose the United States Airforce, as he explains, “I did it for no other reason than to serve my country.”
He attended basic training at Lackland Air Force Base located in San Antonio, Texas. His contract was for law enforcement, but the Air Force had different plans for him, and Harold was tasked with becoming a cardiopulmonary lab specialist. “I couldn’t spell it much less know what it was,” he says. But after a stint at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, Harold completed Phase I and got a surprise. Phase 2 of his training would occur at Keesler Air Force Base, in Biloxi, Mississippi just minutes from home. Although Harold volunteered to go overseas during the First Gulf War, he ended up finishing his enlistment at Keesler’s Medical Center.
During this time, he began another volunteer program by becoming a reserve law enforcement officer with the Pascagoula Police Department in 1991. “I loved being one of Mac McGinty’s boys,” he says of his days as a law enforcement officer. He continued as a reserve officer until 1996. But, again, his family needs chose his career path for him, and he went to work for Mississippi Phosphates where he worked for twenty-three years until its shutdown.
When his son Gavyn was old enough, Harold made sure to coach his football team, first on the Vikings, where Tillman was known for always wearing his yellow windbreaker, and then on the Seminoles. It was also during this time that Harold began to coach and mentor a young four-year-old named Senquez Golson who would later go on to star at the University of Mississippi as an Ole Miss Rebel and later be drafted by the Pittsburg Steelers of the NFL. Tillman says that Golson was, “A bundle of talent. You don’t teach what he did. You can try to groom that kind of talent and then stand back and watch them do [great things].” Harold could often be heard calling, “Senquez!” to get the youngster’s attention on the field, “He could account for 60% of the offense alone.”
Harold knew about the Elks from his father, who was a member, as well as his uncle Henry Tillman, who both wanted Harold to join as a member. But Harold still had more to do. He ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2005. “I didn’t want to join and [for] people to think it was about politics. So, after I lost, I joined.” He was very excited to join the Lodge and wanted to actively participate but felt like his interest was ignored at the time. So, he became as he describes it, “a card-carrying member. I just paid my dues and waited for a call to help that never came.” He was discouraged. But, in 2009 he won a second run for City Council and became close to the late Joe Abston, who would later encourage him to participate. “Then Marc Turner started in on me,” he says. But it still took some time before he began to participate fully.
While still working at Mississippi Phosphates, he met A’ndrea. Although both were single, she refused to go out with him at first; she didn’t want to date someone she worked with. But persistence pays off and Harold was able to get her to go for coffee after work one day. The two have been together ever since. They have four children, Gavyn, Tristan, Colby, and Asa as well as five grandchildren. In 2022, A’ndrea suffered a life-threatening medical emergency and was in the hospital for nearly forty days. She has since recovered but has a renewed lease on life and is determined to live it well with Harold. Together they began participating more and more in the Elks.
Says Tillman of his renewed love of the Elks, “If you don’t participate, you can’t really understand what the Elks is about. You will not fulfill your expectations unless you immerse yourself in it.” Now, Harold is the House Committee’s Building Manager and has recently been nominated for the chair of Esteemed Loyal Knight. Harold says, “My dad is on the wall out there,” referring to the memorial boards of departed Elks members hanging on the walls of the Lodge, “My uncle’s [Henry Tillman] on the wall. When the good Lord calls me home, I’ll be on that wall. I love the camaraderie. Everything I need outside of my marriage I get at the Lodge.”
If all of this wasn’t enough, Harold is also an online streaming personality. He is the host of “Panther Preview” which has him interviewing Coach Lewis Simms and the coaching staff of Pascagoula Panther Football during the summer and the football season. Additionally, he is the face of Coast Project Media Sports’ broadcast of Panther Football atop the press box at War Memorial Stadium. Both are streamed on Facebook and YouTube, where you can hear Harold and his signature introduction, “It’s Friday night. That means ‘Goula football right here on CPM Sports. I’m Harold Tillman bringing you the game atop of War Memorial Stadium.” You may not have known his face until now but if you have followed Pascagoula High School football, you surely know his voice.
So, what else does he have time for? Well, being a grandpa for one. “That’s the most important thing,” he smiles. He and A’ndrea follow Pascagoula Panther Football as it travels in the Fall. They find unique things to do in the towns in which the team plays. They also like to take random rides and enjoy antique stores.
Harold, we sure are glad you have plenty more time left. We love your help.