Marshall Monroe Tillman, Jr,
Forest Hill Drive-In, Germantown, TN
Marshall Monroe TIllman, Jr, – a WWII Veteran of the Pacific Theatre, owner of the Forest Hill Drive-In store (southwest corner of Forest Hill-Irene and Poplar). a fighter for the rights of the small business owners, a collector of “breweriana”, a writer, an “idea” man, and the Mayor of Moscow. Marshall was all of the above.
Marshall received an Air Medal and Gold Star in lieu of the Second Air Medal as an Aviation Radioman Second Class with the United States Naval Reserve in World War II. The Citation read:
“For meritorious achievement in aerial flight as an Air-crewman of a BombernPlane in Bombing Squadron TWELVE, attached to the U.S.S. RANDOLPH, during operations against enemy forces in the vicinity of the Japanese Homeland and adjacent islands from February 16 to May 9, 1945. Completing his tenth combat mission during this period, TILLMAN rendered invaluable assistance to his pilot and contributed to the infliction of extensive damage on enemy shipping, airfields, and installations. His courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
The bumper sticker for the Forest Hill Drive-In read: “When You’re In Forest Hill Drive-In, You Can Look Up To Bigger & Better Things”! The Drive-In was a combination service station, lunch counter, and country grocery located at 9095 U.S. 72.
In 1979, Tillman said that gas prices are too high. As a Thanksgiving Day tribute to his customers, he sold gas for 19 cents less a gallon than he paid for it. “It’s CAT time – that stands for customer appreciation time”, said Tillman, then 54 years old. “We are selling all of our gas – regular, premium, and lead-free, for 79 cents a gallon all day as a Thanksgiving ’79 tribute. On Memorial Day in ’79, he had planned to sell gas for 30 cents a gallon. The oil companies would not participate so he decided to do it on his own. Many people returned in different cars to buy the 10-gallon maximum for each family vehicle. It cost him around $600, but it made him feel good.
By the end of the day, Tillman, clad in a bright yellow overcoat and cowboy hat, had made many friends and sold about 2,850 gallons of gasoline, almost depleting his 3,000 gallon supply.
Tillman was bit by the “breweriana” bug which signified any and all items relating to beer and brewery advertising and packaging. After 20 years with International Harvester he joined the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. as a quality control technician and there his interest in beer bottles began. His collection was housed in his Forest Hill Grocery for all his customers to admire. Most of his beer bottles were green. Tillman said, “that when the brown bottle was developed, many brewmasters felt the brown to be superior. The beer was better protected from light, air, and heat, the three things that harmfully affect the flavor.” His beer bottles came from all over the world. One brown bottle had a label around the neck of the bottle with a bit of red paper admonishing the drinker to buy U.S. War Bond Savings Stamps.
The most memorable Tillman battle with the City of Germantown was over signage. Tillman was charged with at least seven signs violating the ordinance. The maximum fine was $50 per day per violation. His requests for sign variances had already been turned down by the Design Review Commission and the Board of Mayor and Alderman. The seven signs listed in the affidavit were a large “Delicatessen” sign on the side of the building, a “BandAmericard” sign over one of the pump islands, a “phone inside” sign by a gas pump, an “Ice” sign, a “Beware of Dog” sign, two “Forest Hill Drive-In” signs above the roofline and two “76” signs on each of two gas pumps. Tillman referred all questions to his attorney Lucius Burch, Jr. The attorney for the City of Germantown was R. Lee Winchester, Jr.
Tillman filed suit in Chancery Court challenging the ordinance’s requirements. Tillman’s attorney, Charles Burr, argued that the city could not enforce its ordinance against his client, because it was in conflict with a state law on zoning which provides for the continuation of existing land use. Under the statute cited, an industrial, commercial business establishment which is annexed into an area with different zoning restrictions is permitted to operate under zoning regulations or exceptions made prior to the annexation. The earlier use is termed nonconforming. The question arose whether Tillman was in compliance with the county regulations at the time of the annexation.
In another issue, Tillman was fined $650 for continuing operations in a portion of the building structure, built in 1977 in the County without permits, that was declared unsafe after the County Building Official Christ Sanidas had posted “no occupancy” orders. This included a carport, a storage shed, and a connecting passageway from his back door to a large walk-in cooler. Tillman had applied for a variance, but before his application was ruled on, his business was annexed into Germantown.
Despite these problems, his business did pass the county health department’s quarterly inspection of his restaurant. Tillman began selling a “jailhouse special” lunch plate in reference to his possible trial for violation of the sign ordinance. He even hung a black/white striped shirt with a serial number in the store.
Germantown was stopped from prosecuting Tillman on four charges of violating the city’s sign ordinance in Chancery Court by Chancellor Robert A. Hoffmann, citing “property rights were involved.” The city then dismissed the remaining six charges. Even though the case was not over, Tillman felt like celebrating and held up a T-shirt depicting his building and its signs on the back and him on the front. The caption said, “You Can Fight City Hall.”
Shortly thereafter, Tillman provided the entertainment for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting in May, via a “Belli-gram”. Havva, a dancer from Belli-Grams of Memphis, brought dancers and a message for the Board stating “As the world turns, into each life some rain must fall” – Early Bird Election Day. The next election was only one year away. The paper stated that the aldermen enjoyed the belly dancing, but were a little less receptive to a proposed annexation along the Wolf River. Tillman also wrote NBC to see if they would report on the matter, but they declined.
Tillman was an idea man and composed many a letter to politicians and their spouses such as Betty Ford, Lamar Alexander, Ronald Regan, and Laura Bush. He even corresponded with Warren Buffet. He was a shareholder with Philip Morris and received a note from Geoffrey Bible, Chairman, and CEO of Philip Morris. Tillman was a supporter of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon and submitted suggestions for new products and promotion to Kellogg’s. He thought special shoestrings could be promoted by Kellogg’s as a premium for an insert. Actually, they had done that in the past. He also sat down with Tennessee Senator John Wilder, Sr., to discuss several methods of raising revenue without raising taxes. His correspondence also reached Fred Smith’s Office at FedEx.
A Texaco station replaced the service station on the corner of Forest Hill-Irene and Poplar. The original building was constructed as a Sinclair Oil Co. station in the 1930s when Poplar was a 2-lane road. The Cox family of Collierville bought it in the early 1960s and leased it to Tillman.
Tillman, a veteran, a fighter of City Hall, and a friend to many was a Germantown citizen with a lot of character. The following says a lot about the man….>
He wrote: “In this New Year now beginning, there is an opportunity for us to make resolutions, and one of the best that anyone can make is appreciation. For your life, your health, for the enjoyment by which we live, for the one’s dearest and nearest to us, for the simple joys of daily living, for the ability for us to give love and help to others from the most unexpected sources, for learning and for the acceptance with joy for others young and old.
Remember, the loneliest people in the world when a tragedy comes, are those who have no one to remember. Sometimes they become displaced persons going from nowhere to nowhere. Don’t let this happen to you as your heart becomes heavy and the road ahead seems uneven. Sometimes, unhappy people maybe that way by choice.
Life is an unending procession except on one point. There will be a future for you tomorrow if you try to do your best to leave the world better than you found it. Let’s hope the young will be better lovers of all their neighbors than they have seen us be. God’s gifts to us have been many, beyond anyone’s appreciation.
Only this I know, what you and I have received, we are to share. What has been given us, must be spent for the good of others. Be fair and honest in your demands, become as we live, the temptation trots alongside us to be stingy as misery, the reward of giving will be found with your joy of peace, freedom, and pleasures in life that you will find if you seek.
Probably one of the greatest pleasures in life is to give openly, and never, never to consider the cost. Think of it: Who have been the happiest people you have ever known?
(A complete file on Marshall Tillman can be referenced at the Germantown Regional History and Genealogy Library on 7779 Poplar Pike)