Resident Spotlight: Joan Gilliland


On entering the apartment of Joan Gilliland, you immediately see a beautiful Christmas scene of a snow village of sixty houses, all with lights displayed in a custom-made cabinet. According to Joan, the houses represent only one-half of the original number. In another room, you will see the same number of beautiful porcelain birds. Joan is a collector, but she has also served most of her life as the wife of a pastor of various Methodist churches.

According to Joan, being a pastor’s wife was very fulfilling. The needs of each pastorate were diverse and required different skills. For example, when they served near a naval base, they were occasionally awakened in the middle of the night to perform marriage ceremonies for couples being separated by deployment orders. Joan says the greatest disadvantage of being a pastor’s wife was always living in a “fishbowl” and never in a house of her own.

Joan’s gift of service was embedded in her early life. Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1933, Mary Joan Worley was the oldest of five siblings, the youngest being fifteen years younger. “As the oldest,” says Joan, “I became a second mother in our household. There was certainly never a dull moment!” With good parents and stable home life, Joan’s childhood was a happy one. “Christmas time was joyous. We had Santa, a decorated tree, and gifts. Of course, our gifts were nothing like the ones children receive today,” she recalls.

Joan’s family moved to a suburb of Atlanta when she was twelve years old; she graduated from high school in 1950 at the age of sixteen. She decided to attend business school, and her first employment was as an administrative assistant in the district office of F. W. Woolworth Company.

A student of Emory University School of Theology, Willis Gilliland was assigned to pastor the Methodist church that Joan and her family attended. “When we got home from church, following Willis’ first service, I was smitten,” Joan admits. “I announced to my family, I have met the man I am going to marry.” The courtship began. When Willis graduated in 1956, their relationship became long-distance when Willis was appointed to Hampton Memorial Methodist Church in Millington, Tennessee. Actually, according to Joan, “He was assigned to an empty lot with instructions to ‘plant’ a church!” Joan and Willis married one year later in 1957, and their daughter, Carla, was born a year later. While in Millington, Joan was employed as an assistant to the Administrative Office of the Naval Air Technical Center. They served three other churches in West Tennessee: Bolivar, Covington, and Dyersburg. Their last appointment was in Brownsville, Tennessee, where Willis was appointed District Superintendent in 1992. Sadly, after only one year in Brownsville, Willis died of a heart attack and Joan moved back to Dyersburg.

Joan always found employment wherever the family lived, as the extra income was necessary to supplement a pastor’s salary. While serving in Bolivar, Joan was employed by the Hardeman County Board of Education between periods of serving as church secretary. Soon after their move to Covington, their church began a school for three and four-year-olds in conjunction with a local Presbyterian church. After seven years, Joan continued to fill a “temporary” teaching position. When the family moved to Dyersburg, Joan was asked to fill a teaching position for a preschool class. Due to an error in the registration process, Joan found herself with a class of TWENTY four-year-olds! She continued with teaching for three years and then accepted a position as an administrative assistant to the Dyer County Superintendent of Schools. Joan also served on the Dyer County Lifeline Board of Directors and was the Memphis Conference Secretary for the United Methodist Women.

While living in Dyersburg, their daughter was married. “It was a high point in our lives,” says Joan, “when her daddy officiated at the ceremony.” In 1985, when Joan learned her first granddaughter was to be born, she learned to smock. She perfected her skill and made a beautiful and treasured christening gown that has been worn by both grandchildren and great-granddaughters. Many smocked dresses were made by Joan for her granddaughter and continue to be worn by her great-granddaughters.

The Gilliland Family

When asked about Christmas time as a pastor’s family, Joan responded, “We always completed church activities before driving to Atlanta where our families celebrated Christmas together. It was always a joyous occasion but chaotic! I remember two incidents that were not so joyous. Once, Willis didn’t open the garage door enough, and the carrier we had on the top of our packed, small car was stripped off as he backed The Gilliland Family out. Another time, at our family gathering in Atlanta, my father accidentally picked up a box of baby clothes and burned them in the trash.”

Joan and her husband were fortunate to do extensive travel, especially seeing the Passion Play in Oberammergau. Because she had always lived in a parsonage, Joan enjoyed the lake home she was able to build in Dyersburg after her husband’s death. Briefly, she was employed by a funeral home but finally was able to spend her time enjoying her hobbies and church activities.

Following a health scare in 2020, Joan moved to Kirby Pines to be near her daughter. She is always involved in multiple activities and hopes to get more involved. “I love to volunteer!” exclaims Joan.
Written by Joan Dodson, Resident of Kirby Pines

Written by Joan Dodson, Resident, Kirby Pines