Alumni Spotlight

Matilda Lovins Simpson, '52J, 58

By: Michelle Goff
November 17, 2015

Growing up, Matilda Lovins Simpson, known as Tillie, never considered the possibility of attending college.

“I was from a poor family,” recalls the Knott County native. “I didn’t have any money.”

Tillie’s educational plans begin to take shape, however, when a friend asked her to attend the Pikeville College Junior College (now the University of Pikeville) with her. Securing a scholarship, Tillie enrolled and helped fund her college education with a workship.

“I worked in the president’s office, the library, the bookstore, the cafeteria … any place they had a job, I did it,” Tillie recalls.

The college soon became a second family for Tillie, who lost her parents while a student at Pikeville.

“I had lovely teachers who took me under their wing, they were just so good to me,” she says. “Dr. A.A. Page (president of the college from 1940 to 1962) was so kind to me. He was a special person to each and every student. He was a godsend to me and he never asked how I was going to pay this money.”

Although the scholarship and workship had helped, upon graduation in 1952, Tillie still owed a balance to the college. With help from Dr. Page, she was able to find a job teaching, which allowed her to start paying on the bill.

“Dr. Page called Beckham Combs, the superintendent of Knott County Schools, and said, ‘This girl needs a job badly,’” Tillie explains. “I taught one year in a one-room schoolhouse. I had 22 students, in all eight grades. Some of the students were almost as old as I was.”

Tillie continues, “I paid on my mother’s funeral with my first paycheck and used the next one to pay on my Pikeville College bill. I took turns paying those bills. When I paid off the college, I received the nicest letter from Dr. Page. That meant more to me than my degree.”

After graduation, Tillie married a fellow Knott County native, Truman Simpson, and moved with him to Ohio. The state was in desperate need for teachers, but Tillie was hesitant about returning to the classroom.

“The superintendent told me that if I taught just one year, he wouldn’t bother me again.” She adds with a laugh, “I stayed for 33 years.”

Although Tillie had transferred to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, she transferred back to Pikeville as soon as she learned the college had started offering four-year degrees. Attending college during the summers, she lived in a dorm on campus during the week and stayed with her in-laws in Knott County on weekends. She received her bachelor’s degree from Pikeville College in 1958.

Tillie spent the next three decades teaching in Ohio and still keeps in touch with several former students. “I taught in the best of times,” she says. “I had a wonderful career. Eight of my students are doctors, and I don’t know how many are nurses. The medical field has played an important role in my life.”

Indeed, Tillie has experienced her share of health issues including breast cancer, colon cancer, skin cancer, and open heart surgery.

Chuckling, she notes, “I’m still going.”
Sadly, though, she lost her husband a few years ago.

“He was a lovely man,” she says. “We were married for 59 years. We grew up a couple miles apart. He was my childhood sweetheart. He retired one year before I did, and we had all those years together. It was very hard to give him up.”

Tillie expresses gratitude for her son, Timothy (Tim), and grandchildren, Sara and Geoffrey (Geoff).

“I was married 13 years before Tim was born,” she says. “The doctor said I couldn’t have any children. I proved him wrong. I’m very blessed to have my grandchildren live close and to get to see them grow up.”

Tillie also considers her time at Pikeville as well as the lessons she learned there a blessing.

“I learned to always be kind to people and to help everyone that you could,” she says. “There’s always somebody a little worse off than you. That’s still true. I’ve had lots of health problems, but God has brought me through each one.”

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