People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. –maya angelou
Kyle Tilley was a 26-year-old swim coach and substitute teacher in Lewisville ISD and a graduate of Flower Mound High School. His story has been told countless times. It captivated the community – a young, handsome, energetic, athletic, compassionate man, still charting his life’s course, still weighing his options while investing in others every step of the way, was taken from this world in a senseless traffic accident in which he was an innocent victim.
People who never knew Kyle were drawn to the tragic injustice and saddened by the knowledge they were cheated of the richness knowing Kyle would have added to their lives, in some ways paralyzed by the raw story.
But the people who did know Kyle weren’t paralyzed at all. They were moved to action, launched into something bigger than themselves.
“Kyle was a unique individual!” Shannon Gillespy said. Gillespy is the Marcus High School Swim and Dive Coach and the LISD Westside Aquatic Center Facility Director. “He MADE the room light up!! Wherever he was, he knew no stranger and everyone was his friend. Kyle made you feel like you were the only person around him even when you were in a group.”
A Google search for Kyle Tilley turns up countless articles recounting the same thing – a young man taken too soon, his departure a loss for those who knew him and those who would never have that opportunity.
And perhaps that’s why, not much more than 24 hours after authorities notified the Tilley family of the tragic accident, the phone at the LEF offices began to ring.
It was a neighbor of the Tilley family. The neighborhood, the entire community, was shocked by the accident. They wanted to do something to let Kyle’s parents, Dona and Larry, know how loved Kyle was. They wanted Dona and Larry and Kyle’s siblings to know they weren’t alone. “Is it possible to set up a scholarship, something to honor Kyle’s memory and accomplishments?” the neighbor asked.
Scholarship inquiries are not unusual. LEF is home to more than 200 scholarships, the vast majority of which were established to honor or memorialize an individual who made an impact within LISD. But there was something about the urgency and the optimism in the face of such a tremendous loss that set this inquiry apart.
Before long donations were coming in. Friends, family members, families of young swimmers coached by Kyle, teachers who taught Kyle and then taught alongside him when he worked as a substitute, Jaguars and Marauders were among those to donate. The Town of Flower Mound, usually divided into two high schools, was united in its love of Kyle.
The minimum endowment level was reached pretty quickly, and the Kyle Tilley Memorial Scholarship was established. Because the swim community is rather tightly knit and because Kyle worked with students throughout the Town of Flower Mound, it was decided the scholarship would be awarded to a graduating varsity swimmer at FMHS or MHS with at least a 3.0 GPA, plans to swim in college, who demonstrates strong character qualities or is a team encourager, with preference given to a student also involved in Circle of Friends.
The phone at LEF rang again. It was the MHS Swim and Dive Team Booster Club. They decided to name one of their booster club scholarships, which LEF administers, in Kyle’s memory. And so, the Marcus Swim and Dive Team Booster Club Kyle Tilley Memorial Scholarship was born. It is awarded to a graduating senior who is an active member of the Marcus Swim & Dive Team. The scholarships are not based on athletic ability.
And then the phone rang again. It was FMHS Assistant Principal Joe Bracket. Every educator has a student or two, over the course of his career, who becomes like family. Kyle was one of those students for Bracket. “Kyle is the man I hope my son becomes, the man I want my daughter to marry,” Bracket said. “He loved children. He was amazing with (FMHS) special needs students.”
Bracket recalled several personal memories of Kyle. “My son, one of the most cautious boys ever, would not put his face in the water while swimming. Kyle got him to do it. There was always a smile on Kyle’s face. I was jealous of his hair. Sometimes I call his cell phone just to hear his voice mail greeting.”
When Bracket called LEF in the months following Kyle’s passing, it wasn’t simply to share his memories. He wanted to know what level the Kyle Tilley Memorial Scholarship endowment had reached. The FMHS faculty, with Bracket’s encouragement, wanted to see the endowment reach the next level, whatever that was, before the scholarship was awarded for the first time last May. That would allow more money to be awarded to more students in Kyle’s memory. Within weeks of that phone call, the FMHS faculty delivered a donation to meet that next milestone, and LEF and FMHS were able to tell Kyle’s parents the good news at the LEF Scholarship Awards Night in May, 2015, a little more than six months after Kyle was taken from them.
“Finding out after this terrible thing that there is a whole community who loved and supported Kyle and saw what I saw in him…” Dona Tilley’s voice trailed off. “I think he would be so surprised and humbled by the attention he is getting. He was just being himself.”
She recalled a common occurrence. “We would be out to eat and you could hear the squeals start when they spotted him from the parking lot,” she said. “Little girls, young swimmers, who were delighted to run into Coach Kyle. It’s because he treated everyone the same, from the principal, to the young children, to the special needs students. If you were talking to Kyle, you had his full attention.”
Kyle made people feel loved and valued. And feeling loved and valued creates a feeling of being capable and fearless, and fearless and capable people act. So Kyle’s presence moved people to action, and his absence increases the urgency of that action – particularly the action of making sure Kyle is never forgotten and his legacy of empowering others lives on.
“As a young swimmer Kyle strived to be the best, ALWAYS working hard to get better,” Gillespy recalled. As a coach, he instilled that mindset into his young swimmers. As a substitute teacher, he imparted that work ethic to some of the most challenging students. As the namesake of scholarships, he continues to empower the next generation to be better than they think they can be, in part because of the generosity and action of those who know and love the Tilley family.
Is there a student or educator whose legacy you would like to guarantee? Scholarships and teacher grants in honor or in memory of teachers and students help ensure the stories of amazing students and teachers are preserved for future generations. Contact LEF Programs Coordinator Sherah Robinson for more information.