Age 96, formerly of Luray, Va.
August 18, 1925 ~ April 1, 2022
An ever-present smile and a quirky laugh. These are the first things that come to mind when remembering Frances. Behind her smile and laugh was a serene wisdom, resilient character, and indomitable spirit. These qualities were honed by challenges and heartbreaks that Frances faced from the start of her life in 1925 to her passing 96 years later.
Frances began life on a small farm on a mountain in the Shenandoah Valley near Luray, Virginia. Her parents Clarence Otis and Beulah Somers likely prayed for strong sons to help carry out the unrelenting and arduous work of farm life. Instead, they were blessed with five daughters of which Frances was the third child. The Somers farm had no electricity or plumbing, and all work was done manually. Hand tools and human muscle were used for constructing farm buildings such as chicken coops, hog pens, fences, an outhouse, a wash house for hand washing clothes, a smoke house for preserving meats without refrigeration, and a cellar for storing jars of vegetables and fruits. The family had one horse for assisting in plowing and planting fields, as well as transporting the family in a wagon to church and school.
Frances loved school. She writes that “my first five years were in a one room school with 15 classmates. With sixth grade I caught the bus to town and a whole new world with 40 classmates. Though we were in the middle of the Depression, there were clear-cut divisions between city kids and country kids. I refused to feel inferior because our family, while poor in material things, always had food, shelter, and love.” She was a voracious reader and was reputed to have read every book in the library including the encyclopedia. Frances was also a gifted writer who frequently had her poetry and short stories featured in the school newspaper. She also excelled at debate and once led a team to victory arguing in turn both sides of the issue.
Frances graduated as the salutatorian of her high school and aspired to attend college. However, in the early 1940s, college was not an option for a country girl with no money. Instead, she answered an ad to move in with a family in Hagerstown, Maryland. She was hired to assist a young mother named Margaret with the care of her child Paul who was crippled with cerebral palsy. Frances began what became a lifelong friendship with Margaret and her family. Frances writes that “I fell in love with that family and married into it a year later.”
Margaret introduced Frances to her brother army Sergeant William “Bill” Tillett. He was full of life, good humor and became the center of any gathering. Bill was a handsome, muscular young man who could lift Frances off the ground and hold her aloft with one arm. Margaret lovingly referred to her older brother as a “Good Time Charlie.” Bill was also a devoted family man. He never failed to send a significant portion of his meager military pay home to help his parents.
It was love at first sight for Frances and Bill. They had a whirlwind romance and at age 18 Frances became a war bride, marrying Bill on November 13, 1943, just before he shipped overseas to join General Patton’s 4th Armored Division and the Battle of Normandy. On July 31, 1944, Bill was severely wounded when he charged a German machine gun nest in Avranches, France. He was ultimately transported to a hospital in the UK where he remained for surgery and rehabilitation for over six months. He was then sent to a recovery hospital in Virginia where he was finally reunited with Frances. Bill received a disability discharge in July 1945. Frances would not let this, or other challenges overcome her. Instead, she smiled at life’s challenges and faced them with determination. She and her decorated, but battered war hero, were now free to finally begin their life together as husband and wife.
Ironically, the child of a farm family of five girls would go on to have five sons and live in the Washington, D.C. area. Frances and Bill had another setback when they lost their first son, born prematurely on their second anniversary. Undeterred, they were blessed with four more sons, born over a span of 21 years. Bill recovered from many of his physical wounds and together they were actively engaged in the raising of their family. Frances also began a full-time career with the federal government starting as an entry level clerk and eventually working her way up to one of the highest-level career positions as an adjudicator for the Civil Service Commission. Frances was the only person to ever hold this position without either a college or law degree.
After 34 years of marriage Frances and Bill were able to plan their first extended vacation. Bill was retired and Frances took a month’s leave. Everything was packed and ready to go when tragically, Bill suffered a fatal heart attack. Another huge challenge to be overcome. Nine years later, at age 62, Frances was able to take their dream vacation alone. She recorded that: “I spent time in the Grand Canyon, both North and South Rims. I rode on the back of a mule to the bottom of the Canyon where we camped for the night and then rode the mule back to the top. I hiked all around Zion National Park, hiked and rode horseback in Bryce Canyon, took a boat tour on Lake Powell, and saw The Rainbow Bridge, which Zane Grey’s writings had introduced me to many years ago. What a wonderful trip!”
Frances retired not long after her Western adventure and began to live out many of her other dreams. She spent extended periods of time with her sons and their families in Florida and Texas. She celebrated holidays and special occasions with her five grandchildren and was present for the birth of at least one. She joined them on many trips to places that she had previously known only through books – trips to Canada and Mexico, the Swiss Alps, Paris, London, and to the Caribbean Islands. Frances also began to share a home with Margaret and her husband Roger in Florida and Northern Virginia.
Life dealt Frances another blow in November 2009. She was getting in her car to drive to the grocery store when she suddenly experienced a debilitating headache. Somehow, she was able to walk back to her apartment and call 911. The ER team arrived within minutes to find her unconscious and immediately transported her to the hospital. She had suffered a brain aneurysm and would be comatose for weeks. She gradually responded to treatment but had lost all memory and mobility. She was discharged to a rehabilitation center and then to a nursing facility where she made painstakingly slow progress. The prospects for Frances were grim and it was decided to move her to a facility near her son Douglas and his family in Allen, Texas. Then, miraculously, Frances began making significant progress and was able to move to an independent living facility. She proceeded to enjoy a full life for many years, traveling, reading, playing bingo, swimming, exercising, and most of all spending time with her family. She would often tell her sons: “Nothing else matters more than family. In the darkest of times and throughout the greatest hardships you are never lost if you have your family.”
Frances’ smile and positive energy live on in all who had the pleasure of knowing her and can still be witnessed on the faces of her extensive family. She is survived by three sons Jim, Doug, and Roger Tillett, five grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and a great, great grandson. Jim and his wife Mary Burke have two children, Matthew, and Sara. Doug and his wife Marilyn have three children, and five grandchildren. Their son Greg and his wife Tracy have four children, Katelyn and husband Chanan Uptmore and their son Callahan, Garrett and wife Kennedy Dupree, Zachary Tillett and Madelyn Tillett. Daughter Amy Perales has a son Alexander, and daughter Nancy and her husband Rick Adler have two children, Ashlyn, and Ethan. Frances is also survived by two sisters, Eleanor Rexrode of Ft. Seybert, West Virginia, Audrey Campbell of Luray Virginia, and extended families. Frances was preceded in death by her husband Bill, son Wendell, parents Clarence and Beulah Somers, sisters Genevieve Anderson, and Elizabeth Gochenour.
Special thanks to Gracious Fountain Senior Care Home in Allen Texas for their loving care.
Frances’s life will be celebrated and remembered at Creekwood United Methodist Church, 261 Country Club Road, Allen Texas at 10:30 AM on Saturday April 30, 2022.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Disabled American Veterans.
A second memorial service will be scheduled in 2023 at Arlington National Cemetery, where Frances will be laid to rest with her husband and hero of 34 years.
Condolences for the family may be left on the Allen Family Funeral Options website – affoplano.com.