In Memory of Dr. Bonnie Lee Gilliom

Sunset at Caneel Bay, St. John, USVI, Bonnie’s favorite getaway, 2013.

My mother, Dr. Bonnie Gilliom, passed away on Jan 5, 2016. Bonnie lived an amazing life. She was a lifelong educator, an innovator in public television, the author of a best-selling book in her field, a fearless world traveler, a gourmet cook, an unequalled host and entertainer, and a fierce avocate for local arts in any form. We’ll miss her deeply.

My dad, sister and I were touched by the many tributes we received about Bonnie, whether written in cards, shared online, or spoken during her memorial event on Jan. 13. We’ve provided many of them here, along with photos, audio from the memorial, and other links we hope capture her life’s achievements and the warmth shared by her many friends, students, colleagues and family members.

In addition, here’s Bonnie’s official obituary, beautifully written by her husband of 59 years, Gene Gilliom.

Introduction to Bonnie’s memorial event, by Gregor Gilliom:

We’re so glad you’ve all joined us to help celebrate mom’s life. As you may know, when the time came, Bonnie always said she wanted to have party, so that’s what we’re trying to do tonight. To the very end, she wanted her guests to have FUN. Imagine that. It’s so good to see so many friends, and dad, Julia, and I deeply appreciate the kind notes, calls, flowers, and food. It really has made this easier.

In a moment, Bonnie and Gene’s good friend and colleague Steve Miller will introduce a few people who’ll briefly reflect on Mom’s life and legacy. Before that, I’d like to share a few thoughts of my own and on behalf of my sister.

See images from Bonnie’s life, from Bellville to San Francisco to Columbus and far beyond.

First, we want to recognize the outstanding care mom received at Riverside Hospital and especially at the amazing Kobacker House for hospice. They were professional and caring and sympathetic at every turn.

We also want to thank the Faculty Club for helping arrange this memorial on such short notice. Jeff, Bill, Diana, and the others at the Club are almost like family to us. We truly appreciate their sensitivity and thoughtful assistance.

Now, as some of you know, I’m a marketing copywriter. And I’ll admit that when write about a client’s product or service, sometimes I have to exaggerate a little. But when we talk about Bonnie, and all she did in her remarkable life, it often sounds like an exaggeration — but it never is. She really did do all those things.

She really was the editor of her college newspaper, head majorette in the marching band, president of her sorority, and homecoming queen.

She really did write one of the best selling books in her field. In her basement. With toddlers running around the house.

She really did climb mount Fuji with her two young kids. In freezing rain. To the very top.

Listen to tributes from Bonnie’s memorial services, by Gregor, Dr. Steve Miller, Dr. Frank Zidonis, Peggy Johnson, Leslie Snyder, Paul Bennett, and Dr. M. Eugene Gilliom.

She really was a skier who once (and I witnessed this) broke her ski boot at the top of a Swiss mountain, bought replacement boots right then and there, and skied the rest of the way down as if nothing had happened.

She really did hold her own among true geniuses who considered her a friend — from OCLC founder Fred Kilgour to Chuck Csuri, a true pioneer in digital art.

She really did cook dinners for dad’s favorite students, including a promising young coach named Bobby Knight.

Bonnie outside her father’s newspaper office in Bellville, Ohio, around 1940.

She really did float above the plains of Africa and the temples of Myanmar in hot air balloons.

She really did click with virtually everyone she met. From hundreds of travel companions to thousands of students she taught, or those they taught.

She really did do all that stuff. And so much more, which you’ll hear about in just a moment. But first, here are just a few things I learned from Mom, which I’ll never forget.

Travel as often as you can, as far as you can, to as many new places as you can. It will deeply affect they way you see day-to-day problems and reframe your view on the world and issues near and far. And drag your kids along for as much of it as you possibly can.

Great restaurants exist for a reason. Visit them often. Be kind to the servers. And get to know the chefs. They’re amazing people with the best and craziest stories.

Put pen on paper. Preferably a yellow legal pad. That, and a telephone, is all you really need. That’s how she earned a PhD and wrote two books. She never touched a computer, iPhone, or iPad. But she organized classes, seminars, study tours, and fabulous dinners for hundreds of friends and travel companions. For Bonnie, technology was mostly a nuisance.

Be generous to your friends. Invite them over in large packs. There is nothing happier than a houseful of people smiling and reliving shared experiences. Nothing.

Dance whenever the hell you feel like it.

Bonnie doing some backyard ballet, around 1940.

Drive whatever the hell car you want. Mom always picked big American cars when everyone around her was going with tiny foreign gas sippers. Go in style.

Spend a ton of time with your grandkids. Take them to dinner once a week for the first 10 years of their lives. Yes, it was a nice way to give mom and dad a break. But it was also a way to share life lessons and end the evening with card games and reruns of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, which I’m convinced helped make Garrett, Griffin and Eliza the kind and tolerant young people they are today.

Don’t hold many grudges. But really hold a few, so people know what you stand for.

Support working moms. Sometimes it’s hard to balance work life with mom life. Bonnie loved the fact Julia and Jamie were so good at doing it all with such grace. She encouraged their careers constantly. And was so proud of what they accomplished.

Never forget where you came from. She came from a tiny town and revisited often, owning houses there and keeping them nice for renters for decades. She continued to receive and read every word of her hometown weekly newspaper, the Bellville Star, which her father owned and published for 50 years.

Don’t waste time on mindless junk. Skip the tabloids. Read real books. If you need entertainment after work, watch classic movies or cooking shows.

Do crosswords. Every day. Kept her sharp as hell for decades. She did them in pen.

Hold everyone to high standards. Especially your kids. In graduate school, I proudly sent home a paper for a legal reporting class that my instructor said was the best take he’d ever read on it. Mom told me she thought it was “pretty good.” Bonnie was always my most critical editor. I loved that.

That said, throw support behind everything your kids do. Even if it’s not what you expected. Drive your daughter to ballet each week for eight years…then thrill when she takes a right turn into culinary arts. Cheer like crazy when your son gives up sports for the marching band. But don’t hesitate to speak up when a truly bad decision looms.

Middle school in Bellville, around 1948.

Experience art. In all forms. Attend festivals. Buy annual subscriptions and attend as many live performances as possible. Ballet. Stage plays. Jazz. Musicals. Discover the immense talent of people who live among us, and reward their life-long efforts.

Take the long view. Here’s something about Bonnie few people knew. Bonnie LOVED investing. She learned about it from her father, who taught her to pick stocks and funds and hold on to them forever. Forget eTrade or Bloomberg — she tracked their performance using the Wall Street Journal and recorded everything by hand in her infamous giant black binder.

I used to be a fairly jittery investor and she pounded the long view into my head over and over until it stuck. And she gave me the best and unlikeliest stock tip I ever received — to buy shares in Gorman Rupp, an industrial pump manufacturer based just outside her hometown of Bellville. She made her point by hand delivering Gorman Rupp’s annual report to me three years in a row, complete with the most impressive figures highlighted so I couldn’t miss them. That’s right — Bonnie actually read annual reports, cover to cover. And sure enough, that stock pays a nice dividend year after year.

There’s so much more I could say. But I’ll stop because I can’t wait to hear what her friends have to share. So I’ll simply thank you again for joining us tonight. We deeply appreciate it.

Tribute by Bonnie’s former student Leslie Snyder, who also participated in Gene’s study tours:

The first time I met Bonnie was when I, along with a group of fellow teachers from Worthington High School, took her class at Ohio State’s Institute for the Advancement of the Arts. With a ramrod straight back and obvious strong core, she graced the stage of the lecture hall. Her background in dance was part of her signature — even sitting, her posture was perfect. When I last chatted with her just before Christmas, despite the challenges she had been facing with her health, she still had the “Bonnie” posture.

Homecoming Queen, Heidelberg College, 1955.

She developed these “cultural” classes because she understood the importance of the arts in life and in education. Although Dana Gioria, a former Chairman of the NEA said these words, they could have been Bonnie’s, “Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions.” She believed that all forms of art are enjoyable and thought-provoking, but they are so much more: art encourages creativity, increases cultural understanding and preserves cultural heritage, and improves the quality of life.

Bonnie’s classes made a big impression on me. The vivid experiential learning opportunities she gave me and my colleagues stayed with us. She exposed us to a variety of art forms and broadened our expectations. She made us more open-minded and enhanced the way we looked at the world. She helped us become better teachers when we took the skills she had highlighted through the arts to our classrooms. Her influence goes way beyond the narrow group of teachers who took her classes because it radiated out to our students.

Doing early work for WOSU TV, 1960.

She organized gatherings before performances with dinners, often in ethnic restaurants, part of our “cultural education.” We always enjoyed good fellowship among ourselves and with our invited spouses and friends. A couple of our excursions are especially memorable. We so enjoyed Twyla Tharp, a choreographer who has changed the face of dance. We had never seen this type of modern dance performance — graceful, thought-provoking, unusual. After that, I didn’t have to drag my husband Larry along. He came willingly. He wasn’t quite as excited, however, about attending the opera, “The Marriage of Figaro.” He complained that in the three hour opera, they only sang Figaro one time. To top it off, he ended up with a worse groin injury from sitting in such narrow seats than he ever had from playing football.

The most unique and controversial program we attended was Karen Finley. She had come under fire for her performance art, particularly for topics focused on the sexualization of women in everyday western society, but Bonnie thought we should experience her. We were in the Wexner Center, sitting near the balcony railing. As Karen began, she removed her clothes and spread chocolate all over her body…and, let me tell you, we sat up immediately and leaned forward over the railings. It was pretty weird as she sprinkled herself with red heart candy and then bamboo sprouts as symbols of sperm.

Teaching a movement class for WOSU public television, 1960.

Larry and I became better friends with Bonnie and Gene as we traveled with them on five study tours. Although she was usually the perfect partner of leader Gene, sometimes she pushed the boundary when she just wouldn’t do something he had planned. We were in New Zealand when Bonnie borrowed my gortex suit to go skiing…while the rest of us went to see reindeer. She told me that she just couldn’t do it! Can you hear her? When we were in Egypt, we attended a lecture by the Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass. More impressed with himself than we were, he became irritated with our group when we asked questions that he thought were below his expertise. Plus, a few nodded off as the lecture went on and on. Not good. But Bonnie knew how to cut to the chase. On the way out of the room, she turned to me and said, “My mouth is full of blood from biting my tongue.”

Bonnie was always the perfect unflappable hostess whether for the slide show reviews after study tours or for even larger gatherings like the combined birthday party in their back yard under a big tent and with a live band. It was a special way to celebrate her 70th, while also honoring and celebrating Dr. Jewett’s 90th and a doctoral student’s 50th. It rained a bit in the morning, but as the day edged toward the time of the party, the sun suddenly came out. Son Gregor gave his mom total credit for arranging the sun to shine at the right time. Anyone who knew Bonnie would agree.

She was always so calm. She had a knack for decorating which is obvious to anyone who steps into their lovely home. She loved and supported Gene throughout his career and into retirement when she organized a huge retirement party to honor him. She was so proud of their family, Julie and Gregor, their spouses, and the grandchildren. Our last conversation focused on what was going on with the kids, young and old. She remained positive even as her health worsened — she was not a complainer. Her “Bonnie” posture truly illustrated how remarkable she was.

Her obituary mentioned her zest for life, winning smile, sense of humor, and innate kindness. Let me add one more — she made the world a more beautiful and more interesting place for all of us. So many will miss her.

The Gillioms, around 1967. Julia, Gene, Bonnie, and Gregor.

Memories and tributes shared by friends and relatives:

“I am so sad to have learned the news about your mom. She was always very kind to me and genuinely interested in what was happening in my life and with Amy and the girls every time I’d see her.

Tuesday night as I was reading your email I was reminded of an afternoon probably 20 or so years ago when you and your parents were gracious enough to take me to sit court side at Assembly Hall for an Ohio State Indiana game. It was a long drive to Bloomington and the four of us had a wonderful conversation over and back. I was struck that your mom nimbly navigated between asking smart questions, sharing interesting memories and insight while doing more listening than anything. She made me feel like I belonged.

It’s easy to see the influence both of your parents have had on you and your boys. I know you’re hurting like never before. But from my vantage point, you should also be feeling incredibly lucky for having such a wonderful mother for such a long time.

There’s a sculpture in your parent’s living room of a young girl on a swing with the happiest, most carefree smile. Here’s hoping Bonnie is wearing that smile today.”
Tim Kurz, best man in Gregor’s wedding

Gene and Bonnie on the Great Wall of China, leading one of the first U.S. college study tour groups to the country, 1975.

“So many wonderful memories dating all the way back to those beautiful Heidelberg days when Bonnie and Gene and I first got to know each other…Bonnie and I both marched in the infamous Student Prince band — Bonnie was the lead majorette and what a majorette she was ! She certainly knew just how to lead a band — and she always made sure that she stayed out a good distance from the front row (in those days, the trombones were in front and I was one of those…) Occasionally we (the trombones) tried to sneak up on the majorettes, but to no avail…

We all loved old Heidelberg and we knew how privileged we were to start our education in life there.

As the decades have rolled by, we, the Ellikers and the Gillioms, never lost touch and, though often months and years passed by without seeing each other, we always realized what a very special friendship this was. So many fantastic visits to Columbus when the Gillioms so generously invited us to a game to watch the great Buckeye football games and to see and hear “The Best Band in the Land” — what a special thrill that always was, especially for an old “slush pumper” like me. We were wined and dined in the great restaurants that Columbus always has. We were treated to viewing the incomparable slide shows from whatever study tour Bonnie and Gene had just completed….What special times those always were !

Family snorkeling trip throughout the Fiji Islands, around 1977.

Now those days are gone but the memories linger — -our hearts ache with the knowledge that Bonnie is now gone, also — -what a beautiful, gracious, intelligent and caring lady she was and we count it a privilege to have known her and to have been a part of her life..

How we wish we could be there to join in the honoring of Bonnie and the life she lived. Our thoughts and prayers are with Gene and all of his wonderful family.”
— Rich and Carol Elliker

“Gene and Bonnie opened my eyes to much more than travel but the deepest respect for the world way beyond my imagination. I knew it was special then but as the years pass I treasure our trips more. You both were an amazing team and I know you will always miss her as will many of us. Thank you for letting so many of us be a part of your travels and your extended family! I’ll be thinking of you on Wednesday and wish I could be there. Have plenty of Kleenex handy for Paul. :-)”
— Kathy Knisley

The kids and their future spouses, all skiing together for the first time. Colorado, 1997.

“I am so sorry to hear about Bonnie. It was so nice to reconnect with your family a couple times at Stony Lake in recent years. My memories of Bonnie are strongest from childhood, when I was small and uncle gene and aunt bonnie were the fun aunt and uncle I’d see every once in a while on Indiana visits… and I think once in San Francisco. She was always fun and full of life and energy and I know how greatly she will be missed. We’ve learned from the loss of my Dad, that there are long-lived impacts that you have never stopped to imagine. Thinking of you all.”
Bob Gilliom, nephew

“I read the obits everyday—I love reading about people’s lives. When I read your mom’s I immediately said I was going to tell you what a beautiful job you did. Instead, I now know where you got your beautiful gifts. What a tremendous life she had, and remarkable gift your dad wrapped so eloquently. May her many memories be a blessing to all. Thinking of you.”
 — Ruth Milligan

“It was an honor to be there. Your speech was moving and eloquent and the “annual reports” story was hilarious. I was able to stay to hear about five more folks speak, what an impact your Mom made on others! I think your Dad said they made 79 trips together, what other couple can say that? I know the days will be tough, I will be thinking of you buddy.”
— Dan Staley

Julia’s wedding, New Orleans, 1999.

“I know you treasured each moment you had together, especially in recent years. I will always remember her radiant smile and boundless energy. My thoughts are with your family.”
— Karren Fink

“I’m so sorry. Your mom was a sweet, one of a kind person. Much love and many hugs to you, Julie, your dad and your families.”
— Debbie Berwanger Faupel

“I didn’t know your mom, but everything I’ve read and seen over the last few days has made me ache a bit that such an incredible human is gone from the world — and your world in particular. I can’t imagine what you’re experiencing by comparison. But know that I’m remembering you, your dad and Jamie and the kids often.”
 — Joel Showalter

“Such a beautiful obituary reflective of an amazing woman, Greg… Sending thoughts and prayers for your entire family from Atlanta.”
— Shannon Grim

“Sending peaceful, loving prayers and thoughts to you and your family. Bonnie was a wonderful woman, I feel so blessed to have known her and had her be a part of my younger life. I will celebrate her life with you.”
— Laurel Gebhart

Bonnie and her best friend from Bellville, Emma Lou Smith, after the naming and dedication of the Gilliom-Cherp Nature Park in Ashland County, Ohio.

“I’m very sorry to read this post as it is so tough to say goodbye to a dearly loved parent. My condolences to you and your family. Your mother experienced some of the best things in life — long marriage, watching her children grow and create their paths, grandchildren — and I assume other accomplishments. You’re right about celebrating a life well lived! And your mother did just that.”
— Anne Carmack

“So sorry to read your note Gregor. So privileged to have met your mother and have a peek into the wonderful relationship you had. Thoughts are with you all, heart heavy too. To Bonnie.”
— Fiona Mitchell

“I have such fond memories of my first travels abroad to Greece and Italy with the Gene, Bonnie and the kids, and later to Egypt and Turkey. When we got together after these trips to share slides (way before the digital age), Bonnie’s sangria was famous. I fell in love with Rosamunde Pilcher’s books after Bonnie loaned me one during our travels in Turkey. She was a very gracious woman and a great conversationalist. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends.
— Jane DeBrosse

With baby Garrett and Koko, one of the many cats Bonnie cared for and loved. 2001.

“Very sorry for your loss, Gregor. I still remember when your mom was kind enough to invite me to talk to her class. My thoughts are with you, your dad and the rest of your family.”
—Danny Russell

“Thoughts and prayers to you and your entire family as you brave the days and weeks ahead of you. Your mom was an extraordinary woman who’s loss will touch many.”
— Kristina Ennis

“Bonnie was an amazing person and lived an amazing life. She had a passion for the wonderful educational travel adventures you both undertook leading groups on trips to foreign areas. Bonnie will be remembered for her warm, kind and adventurous spirit. We will miss seeing Bonnie at our various OSURA events. We extend our sincere sympathy to you and your family.”
— Howard and Ginny Gauthier

“Tried to find a pretty poem for you as words are hard to write/so sorry for your loss!

Mother is a name held sacred
By most mortals of the earth;
It means great love and sacrifice
From the very day of birth,
A love that’s so full of beauty,
So tender, so very true!
Something, seemingly, from Heaven
That has come to me and you.
There’s no love so understanding
And so faithful to the end
As a Mother’s love — God bless her! — 
That to us our Lord did send.
~Gertrude Tooley Buckingham, “Mother”

I think Windermere was a very special, real sweet spot in my life. I miss my Mom and Dad and its often painful including this morning, but also joyfull: I am thankfull for the varied things they exposed me to including scouting. I see since Windermere,you have grown to become an awesome Dad/Husband/Provider and that is a real testament to your folks and the way they raised you. God Bless You!
 — Walter Cole

Eliza’s birth, Aspen, Colorado, 2003.

“My first position with the Ohio Department of Education was with a Title IV-C grants program and Bonnie was the head of one of the programs we funded. Her approach to professional development was a model to be followed. She knew that professional development is not a one-time workshop after which you hope the teachers implement the ideas that have been shared. Instead, she recognized the need for followup sessions to assure complete implementation. I learned a great deal from Bonnie and having worked with her helped make me a better educator. For this I will always be grateful. She should continue to be thanked for her contribution to the educational profession.”
— Kent Minor

Another big hug from Griffin at Mohican State Park, 2007.

“I am so sad to learn of Dr Bonnie Gilliom’s passing. She was a wonderful person who had a great passion for life and who helped me to learn by traveling and not just reading about places in a book. My first great travel adventure outside the United States was taken with her when we traveled to The Soviet Union and other parts of Eastern Europe. Without her influence, I never would have experienced or accomplished what I did after that. I will forever be grateful for having met and learned from her. God bless and watch over The Gilliom family during this time of great sorrow.”
— Thomas Smathers

“I always enjoyed working with Bonnie on the college newspaper at Heidelberg. Her sincere appreciation of my work was especially important to me at that time. Her warmth and openness were unique for someone that young.
— Bill Styles, Class of ‘55

The Gilliom family at the Worthington Inn, 2011.

“I had the privilege of studying with and working for Bonnie intensively during one summer of graduate school. The respect she showed her students was matched by the high standards she set for them. I was fortunate to participate, if only briefly, in the groundbreaking work she did integrating and advancing the arts in education. I will always appreciate her generosity and encouragement, and my thoughts are with her family.”
— Scott Duncanson

“I’m so very sorry for your family’s loss. Bonnie was a great woman and I feel honored to have met her. She was always very friendly and kind to me. She will be missed by many. Thinking of you all during this difficult time.
— Shirley Grey-Nine

One of Bonnie’s incredible Thanksgiving spreads.

“What an outstanding piece you wrote about your lovely mother. I sit here in the studio taking a break to read about someone else’s life & legacy, and tears fill my eyes with the beauty of it all. I see a bit of my grandmother, my mother, and myself in her story. I can only say, I truly wish I had had the opportunity to meet her. To hope to have even a spark of her adventurous spirit, an ounce of her passion, and the courage that it takes to lead such a fearless life full of love.

Thank you. For being willing to share such an intimate relationship, for sharing through such a beautiful story, and for living out those qualities she instilled in you. This is a life worth sharing — and I’m grateful for the encouragement.”
— Kristin Cruz

“Here I sit, writing to you from Thailand thinking back to my first trip abroad with you and Bonnie. You two have always been an inspiration to me and I am truly grateful for your broadening my horizons. But more than that, you taught me, and I’m sure others, what a happy marriage is all about. I feel so fortunate I had a chance to be with you two twice this summer. Bonnie was always a class act. Even burdened by dementia she maintained her grace and poise. The sparkle of her personality was not diminished. On this journey called my life I watched you teach by example once again what marriage and true love means. Well done sir. God bless you, Greg, and Julia.”
— Paul Valles

Shanghai, China, 2008.