George Tilley was born Jan. 25, 1897; Johnnie Fogle was born Jan. 9, 1907.
The quiet little town of Cameron is where George and Johnnie met and fell in love. The world had Romeo and Juliet; Calhoun County had George and Johnnie.
The 10 years difference in age kept them from having much communication in their younger years. Johnnie was a student when George dressed up as Santa for the Christmas program at the local high school. George glued cotton balls onto his clean shaven face. In those days, the lighting of the Christmas tree was always at the end of the program. Candles in holders were attached to an evergreen tree and ignited at the last minute. There was always a fear of fire, and buckets of water were placed close by just in case. Sure enough, George walked on stage as Santa and the tree caught on fire.
George’s days as student were long gone; he was a grown man and quickly tried to get the fire out. The fire did little damage, with the exception of poor George’s face. Yes, the cotton balls had caught on fire.
There were few cars at the school in those days, and Johnnie had one of the few cars. She drove George to the doctor. Somewhere between seeing him as Santa and then hurt, she became quite smitten with him. As a thank-you, George brought her a box of Whitman’s Sampler candy. Love was in the air.
When the time came for Johnnie to go to college, she was not sure she wanted to leave “Her George,” but she did attend Chicora College for Women. After much conversation between the families, it was decided these two love birds should be married.
The marriage took place on Feb, 14, 1925. In 1934, the couple moved in the upstairs of the old Cameron school house, and in 1946, they purchased the house.
George and Johnnie Tilley were devoted to each other. Johnnie became involved with social and community activities. George was tax collector, magistrate and constable before becoming sheriff. He was a member of the administrative board of Cameron Methodist Church, a Mason and vice president of Golden Kernel Pecan Company.
On Jan. 7, 1941, George was sworn in as Calhoun County’s fourth sheriff. Tilley would hold this position until he was shot on April 30, 1947 while transporting a prisoner. The sheriff and Mr. Jessie Shirer had been out for two days looking for someone who had shot and killed a local preacher. When the person in question was found, the sheriff and Shirer had the prisoner take off one of his boots so they could see if the footprints, and later boot prints, matched. Tilley stopped in a local country store and told Mr. Shirer to go home and see his family.
At that time, Tilley and Shirer parted. Tilley went into the store and purchased a Coke, a paper cup and a pack of nabs. Both sheriff and prisoner were hungry and thirsty, and Tilley shared with the man in custody. Little did Tilley know that while he was in the store, the prisoner had pulled his foot out of his boot and removed the small pistol that he had hidden. Moments after Sheriff Tilley pulled back onto the road, he was shot in the back.
This was a very hard time for Johnnie and the community. Her beloved George was placed under an oxygen tent. George whispered for Johnnie to come close, and he said, “I love you, Johnnie, and I never loved anyone else.” He died eight days later at the Orangeburg Hospital.
This was the first and only time in the history of Calhoun County when a sheriff was killed in the line of duty. His funeral was attended by two former South Carolina Governors, the present governor and more people than we could ever list. Rich, poor, male, female, black, white, women and children were there in record numbers. George Tilley was a good man.
Johnnie died at the age of 90. Not a day went by that she did not think about her George. When she told his story, a little tear would roll down her face. Mrs. Tilley was never bitter about her husband’s death, only sad because she missed him and grieved for him the rest of her life.
She was never remiss in telling others that the love of God was the most important thing in life; all else was secondary. When doctors told her in 1965 she would die of leukemia, she told them God, not medicine, would have the last word. She was told she had six weeks at most to live, and she died 20 years later.
Johnnie Tilley helped and encouraged so many others who had cancer. She broke her hip, and doctors said she would not walk again. But she did. She was featured by The State newspaper in an article about her rehabilitation because of her courage and determination to walk again.
Mrs. Tilley expressed her love for people with her cheese biscuits and cream puffs - all made from scratch. No store bought stuff for the people she loved. She took them to friends and relatives; those who were sick, had lost a loved one, had a new baby or a bad cold; or just to say, “I care and love you.”
Everyone called her "Aunt Johnnie," and she always called her husband “My George.”
The circle of life goes on.
- Sources: Information for this article comes from the Calhoun County Museum and Cultural Center (oral history) and The Calhoun Times.