USC Alumnus and Supporter Bill Tilley Leaves a Legacy of Trojan Spirit
USC alumnus and supporter William Henry Tilley, known as Bill to his friends, died on January 4 of natural causes at the Venice Island duck hunting club in Northern California. He was 73.
Born on October 22, 1939 in Los Angeles, he was the first of five children of Juanita Florence and Jack J. Tilley. His mother was a businesswoman, and his father co-founded the first Jacmar Company in 1938.
After graduating from Montebello High School, Bill continued his studies at USC, where he became a dynamic member of the Trojan Family. He earned a B.S. degree in accounting in 1961, an M.Acct. degree in 1962 and an MBA in 1963. From 1963 to 1966, he taught business and finance in the USC Marshall School of Business and the USC Gould School of Law. He was the university’s youngest instructor at the time and returned many times to teach graduate classes. He also shared his knowledge with business students at Stanford University, Harvard University and UCLA.
Early in his career, Tilley was a Certified Public Accountant and co-founder of Tilley and Roth, which eventually merged into KPMG. Following his father’s death in 1971, he assumed responsibilities as chairman and CEO of The Jacmar Companies, which has investments and operations in restaurants, foodservice distribution, equity investments and real estate. He was also chairman of Shakey’s USA, and fostered the growth and development of BJ’s Restaurants.
In 2004, Bill and his wife Nadine established a $2 million permanent endowment for Traveler, USC’s beloved equine mascot. As dedicated Trojans, Bill and Nadine were longtime devotees of both Traveler and USC football, having attended most home games since marrying in 1975. Nadine, who breeds and trains champion Spanish Andalusian horses, inspired the late Richard Saukko, Traveler’s original rider, to change the mascot’s breed after he spotted her atop a majestic Andalusian in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.
“As long as we have a football team or an athletic department, we want to have a Traveler,” Bill said in 2004. “This animal is the most recognized mascot in American university history. It’s as much a part of USC as any of us are. We’re well committed to a lifelong endowment that survives not only our lives, but also is a part of the future of USC.”
Bill also commissioned artist LeRoy Neiman to craft a painting of Traveler running a victory lap during the 2007 USC vs. UCLA football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The painting was printed in serigraph form, and Neiman made USC the exclusive dealer of all 300 serigraphs and 45 artist proofs, which were each offered for a gift of $100,000. Edward P. Roski, USC Board of Trustees chairman, was the first to donate $100,000 and received the number one serigraph.
Throughout the years, Bill and Nadine gave generously to support many other projects at USC, ranging from the Doheny Eye Institute to the Trojan Family Room in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
“The Ronald Tutor Campus Center will quickly become a very integral part of campus life, and the Trojan Family Room is where the journey starts,” Bill said during the building’s construction.
Bill and Nadine were members of the USC Associates at the chairman level and of the Scholarship Club, the university’s highest-level athletic support group. Bill also served on the board of trustees for the Doheny Eye Institute.
Bill’s philanthropy and volunteerism also extended beyond USC. Bill actively supported the Medal of Honor Foundation, and served on the board of directors for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Boys Republic, and many public and private companies. The Tilley Family Foundation continues to provide grants to deserving students who wish to study entrepreneurship.
Over the years, Bill received honors including the USC Lifetime Scholarship Award, Ernest Young Entrepreneur of the Year, the Elizabeth Burns Lifetime Achievement Award and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. He was an avid car collector, traveler, big game hunter, and deep sea and fresh water fisherman.
“Bill Tilley was a great Trojan,” said Michael L. Jackson, USC vice president for Student Affairs. “We spent many hours talking about his love of USC and how he, his wife Nadine, and children John and Nicole were also great supporters of the university. He was the first major donor for the Division of Student Affairs during my tenure. He taught me a lot about how he got started in business and built major companies, shared great stories about his adventures around the world, and included me and my wife Diana in a number of dinners at his home. I miss him very much.”
Bill is survived by his wife Nadine and their two children — Nicole and John, B.A. ’04, MRED ’09. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to the Medal of Honor Foundation or the Boys Republic.