Susan Tilley helped make Fort Worth better

08/15/2014 7:05 PM

08/15/2014 7:06 PM

Susan Bagby Tilley, who died Tuesday at 76, helped change Fort Worth, sometimes quietly and sometimes with a lot of flair but so much for the better.

In 1972, Ms. Tilley was a member of the Junior League, which agreed to join Streams & Valleys and Tarrant County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 (now known as the Tarrant Regional Water District) to sponsor a family festival on the banks of the Trinity River.

The idea for the Trinity River Festival, she once told Star-Telegram reporter Marty Sabota, came from a group of people who “just wanted to have fun.”

The festival committee got permission from the Fort Worth parks board to hold the event the following May and even signed up the parks board as a sponsor.

Ms. Tilley chaired the first festival, a two-day affair with what she recalled was “zero budget.”

What it had, to put it mildly, was staying power.

Now known as Mayfest, it’s an annual four days of fun, food, music, art, crafts and activities in Trinity Park.

Over the years, it has brought millions of dollars to its sponsors and beneficiaries.

It took organizers like Susan Tilley to get the festival off the ground. Anyone would look back on that as a significant accomplishment on behalf of their city.

But there was more to come. Ms. Tilley joined the board of directors of the Van Cliburn Foundation and became the longtime chairwoman of that board, from 1985 to 1994.

She oversaw three Van Cliburn International Piano Competitions, a world-famous classical music event and a bright jewel in Fort Worth’s cultural crown.

In reporting on Ms. Tilley’s death for Friday’s newspaper, reporter Monica S. Nagy noted that she helped set up Van Cliburn’s performance at the White House in 1987 for then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev.

And one year, she coached her daughter’s youth soccer league to a city championship.

How many ways can one person find to leave Fort Worth a better place?

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