Obituary of Thomas J. Hillis
Tom Hillis, 81, passed away at Hilton Head Regional Hospital, January 7, 2022, from a heart attack suffered the day before. Tom was born in Savannah, Ga. to Vivian and Thomas Hillis, Sr. As a boy, he hunted and fished with his father and played baseball. He was bright and skipped two grades in school. After an early high school graduation, he used his piano playing skills to join a band, the Savanna-based Five Sparks. They played in local venues, made a few recordings, and eventually traveled with Jerry Lee Lewis as an opening band. After a few years on the road, Tom decided to get serious about his education and attended Armstrong State Junior College and Georgia Southern, graduating with a degree in accounting. He was also a member of the Georgia National Guard.
After passing his C.P.A. exam Tom was recruited by the Charlotte, N.C. office of Arthur Andersen & Company. One of their clients was the developing Sea Pines Company in Hilton Head Island, SC. During the 1960s, Tom traveled the back roads several times a year to do the Sea Pines audit. Meantime, back in Charlotte, Tom and Judy dated for several years and then married on June 20, 1970. Just two weeks later, Tom was offered a job on Hilton Head with Graves Construction Co. which he accepted and they immediately moved to the Island. Those were wonderful years in the Island's early development. Hilton Head was small enough where everyone knew everyone else and most young couples were involved in home building and related industries or real estate. Many lived with their children in North Forest Beach and there were dances and parties on a regular basis. The home of John and Frances Tilton on Dove Street was a popular place to gather and friends were amazed when Tom, who was normally soft-spoken and reserved, would break into a rollicking version of Jerry Lee Lewis' Great Balls of Fire on the Tilton upright.
Hilton Head was a wonderful place for him to enjoy his life-long love of fishing. One year he won the award for the largest flounder caught in Beaufort County. Tom, Judy, and their daughter Roseann also lived in Port Royal Plantation for 15 years. Later, Tom and Judy moved to Mariner's Cove Club on the intercoastal waterway where Tom could enjoy his boat, the sunsets and shorebirds, and even fish from the backyard. The family enjoyed the delicious fried fish dinners he would prepare from his catch.
During his working years, Tom worked with Robert Graves, John Tilton Construction Company, and Bill Jones Realty as their financial officer. He also had his own C.P.A. private practice for many years. Tom went into semi-retirement 15 years ago, but he continued to do part-time accounting work for Robert Graves and his son, Ling Graves.
In the last few years, Tom had declining health but he was still an avid Georgia Bulldogs fan. He would keep up with team news and the individual players on a daily basis. He was so looking forward to the SEC Championship game and missed it by just a few days.
Tom was somewhat reserved, except when he was performing. He was intelligent, loyal, steadfast, and responsible. He will be missed by Judy, his loving wife of 51 years, and his daughter Roseann Connolly, her husband Steve, and granddaughter, Lottie all of Nashville. Also, his brother-in-law Bob Morrison and his wife Nancy of Tampa. He is also survived by a niece Angie and nephews Ronnie and Craig of Georgia. He was preceded in death by his parents, Thomas and Vivian, his brother Ronald, and stepson Kenneth.
Tom's cremated remains will be interred in the columbarium of First Presbyterian Church, Hilton Head Island, where he was a member. In consideration of Covid, services will be private. Island Funeral Home is assisting with the arrangements.