Brit ignores British flight of 1776: chooses own experience as a Chicagoan


Richard overlooks his garden

One hundred and eighty-six years after the Brits fled America, British born and bred Richard M. Tilley was offered a job in Chicago. "If I would have said 'no,' I would have wondered for the rest of my life what would have been. And, I couldn't live with that," explained the Wicker Park resident and Our Urban Times' English Gardner, who turned eighty-five on June 26.  Next year, on his birthday, he will celebrate a half century as a Chicagoan.

Tilley's knowledge about and experience with printing equipment and his work ethic were the traits that caused one of the principals of a New York based firm, Royal Zenith, with service offices in Chicago to offer him a job as a serviceman in 1962. "They said that if I wanted to go back to England in six months, they would pay my fare. So what did I have to loose?"


Tilley at 18 in his British Army uniform

"Where do you want to live?" asked the company sales manager on the ride into the city from O'Hare. With all of his family in England and never having been to the states before, Tilley had no idea.The sales manager dropped him at the Lawson YMCA on Chicago Ave. (A fact for which he never quite forgave the sales manager!)

Throughout his career, Tilley traveled the globe for the company as he rose through the ranks to become the Senior Vice President of Service.  Always looking for a better way to solve a challenge he recommended new technology and even garnered his own patent to improve the efficiency of one of their machines.

One of his most unique problem solving challenges was in a printing plant that used equipment requiring water to cool a lamp. The lamp turned off if the water flow did keep it cool enough.  As technical manager at the time, Tilley sent top flight serviceman after top flight serviceman to solve the problem. Finally, he boarded a plane.

After checking all the basic mechanical parts as well as the electric and water sources, he found all were working fine, as his men had reported. Then he observed the real culprit. The men's room toilet was on the same water feed as the machine. Hence, when a shift took a break the water cooled machine lamp did not receive the proper flow of water!

Such unique problem solving abilities came in handy when he moved into one of the old stately homes of Wicker Park, similar to the experience portrayed in the Money Pit (well, it wasn't quite that bad). When the structure was finally completed (They never are COMPLETED...but), Tilley began focusing his attention on the gardens.


Garden in full bloom

Based on data he has recorded in a database he created in 1999, he begins planning his next year's garden in December/January. Then he makes early orders with seed and plant suppliers, planting his first crop of geraniums in the basement under grow lights in January. In addition to his own gardens, he is one of the volunteer gardeners who toils weekly in the Wicker Park gardens, providing the glorious experience they provide the community twelve months a year.


Pictured at ten years of age in Wellingborough


Born and bred in Wellingborough in North Hamptonshire (Northants), England, sixty-five miles north of London, Tilley's family can be traced through church records back to the marriage of Henry Tilley, a cordwainer (shoemaker), on Dec. 25, 1805. He comes from a family with longevity that lasts so long that "you have to take 'em out and shot 'em to thin the herd!" (That is British humor, you know.) Since there is no "shoot'n" here, we all look forward to having the Tilley productivity and humor for many years to come.



Richard Tilley

A priceless story of a "timeless" man. I have met Richard in his Wicker Park home and had no idea a "powerhouse" of a story was behind him. I wish he could be cloned. What a better world it would be!

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