June 25, 2017

Obituary: Death of Matilda A. Colihan (Tillie) Announced

In this submitted photo, the late Tillie Colihan is seen tending her flowers.

Avid gardener, conservationist, seeker of solutions to make the world and our local communities better places, Tillie Colihan died peacefully in her Essex Meadows home on May 2, 2017.

Born May 20, 1920 in Mount Vernon, NY to William and Rowena Alston, Tillie attended Madeira School in Greenway, VA, and graduated from Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, MA in 1940.  She made lasting friendships with classmates and served as alumnae secretary for both schools.

Not wanting to be left behind after her brothers enlisted in the Armed Services, Tillie joined the Red Cross in December 1943. She was assigned to the 85th Division, stationed in northeastern Italy, and served until the war ended.  She was awarded a Medal of Freedom for “gallantry in the line of duty and devoted service while under enemy fire.” (While immensely proud of her medal, Tillie always insisted, with undue modesty, she was just serving donuts and coffee to the G.I.’s.)

Following the war, she became a receptionist at the Young & Rubicam advertising agency in New York City.  There, she met William J. Colihan, whom she married in May 1948. Tillie and Bill settled in Greenwich, CT, where they raised four children, Alston Colihan of Washington, D.C., Jane Colihan of Brooklyn, NY, William Colihan of New York, NY, and Abby Colihan of Montpelier, VT.  During these years, Tillie took up yoga and developed an interest in natural foods and alternative medicine.

In 1980, Tillie and Bill moved to a house – designed by Bill and her brother, Henry Alston – on the Connecticut River in Essex. Tillie spent springs and summers in her field, surrounded by bluebirds and wildflowers.  She enthusiastically organized the making of trough gardens for May Markets. Wanting to share nature’s beauty, Tillie regularly brought flowers from her garden to the Essex Meadows Medical Center – a practice she kept up for many years. During the winters she and her husband traveled in the U.S. and internationally. Bill died at Essex Meadows Medical Center in July 1994.

In 1998, Tillie moved to an apartment in Essex Meadows.  Hours that she had spent in her garden she now spent feeding birds and keeping up with all things happening in the world.  In recent years she has enjoyed watching her four rarely-disciplined grandchildren, Dan, Jim, Dana, and Molly, turn out fine.

As she wished, there will be a small memorial service later this summer.

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