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A Conversation with a Council Member: Tillie Bishop

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Stephanie South

Tilman M. Bishop, known by nearly everyone as "Tillie,” was one of the first Regional Council members to come on board in 2003 following the creation of the Regional Partnerships program, and he still serves on the Northwest Regional Council today. Bishop is also regent for the University of Colorado for the 3rd Congressional District and resides in Grand Junction with his wife, Pat. He has had a long and dedicated public service career, and when he retired in 1994, Bishop had served Colorado as:  Mesa County commissioner, Colorado state representative for two terms, state senator for six four-year terms, public school teacher for seven years, and college administrator at Mesa State College. Bishop was born in Colorado Springs and has an extensive history with El Pomar Foundation. It began when he graduated from Colorado Springs High School with an El Pomar Foundation Scholarship that provided resources to help him earn his B.A. in 1955 and M.A. in 1956 in Education at the University of Northern Colorado.

Despite his still-busy schedule, Tillie took a few minutes to speak with Stephanie South, the Northwest Regional Coordinator, about Julie Penrose, the importance of the Regional Councils in Colorado, and his advice for the next generation.

SS: Rumor has it that you have quite a history with El Pomar Foundation. I have even heard that it is documented in meeting minutes that Julie Penrose called you by name. Can you tell us a bit about that?

TB: She offered scholarships to boys who graduated high school. I was the third student selected for the scholarship, the second student to use it, and the first to finish my education. I have a copy of the minutes of the El Pomar Foundation Board where Julie called me a “fine young man.”

SS: What do you remember about Julie Penrose?

TB: She was a very stately woman. Very poised. You can imagine that us at the Boys Club [now the Boys and Girls Club] were very impressed when she came in. She would come by the club every four to five months and ask the director the last time the boys had a party, and then she would throw one with hamburgers, hot dogs, soda pop, and ice cream. She had a deep concern and love for young people. As I assess it today, she would be the kind of person you would want to work with on a board.

SS: Why do you feel as though the Regional Partnerships program is important to El Pomar Foundation and to the state of Colorado?

TB: It is an opportunity for community members to truly identify programs that are successful in the region and give feedback to the trustees on the various needs and strengths of the counties. We’re an extension or arm of the trustees at a local level. We’re aware and in touch at the local level.

SS: Looking at your bio, you have done quite a lot. What has been your favorite job and why?

TB: I served 31 years as the associate dean of students at Mesa State College, and it was my “fountain of youth.” But 28 years in the Colorado General Assembly was a great opportunity to be a public servant. However, county commissioner is the closest government to the people—there’s basically no place to run and no place to hide. The problems are right there. You’re right there.

SS: Tillie, if you could give one piece of advice to young people today, what would it be?

TB: I think I would say: “Life is precious and each day is a gift, so you want to live it to the fullest. I think if you work hard, stay focused, and, at the same time, enjoy what you are doing, you will be very successful. Set your sights high. Don’t dream your dreams—live ‘em.”