Former North Carolina state Sen. Jerry Tillman, who served in the General Assembly for over 17 years with an emphasis on promoting school choice and tax relief, died Saturday at age 82.

Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, died at Camden Health and Rehabilitation in Greensboro from natural causes, Andrew Cumby with Cumby Family Funeral Service said Monday.

Tillman was a retired public schoolteacher, administrator and coach who was first elected to the Senate in 2002 after several years as Randolph's GOP chair.

He rose to prominence in the second half of his legislative career as Republicans took control of the General Assembly. He served as a Senate majority whip, education budget writer and finance committee co-chair.

During his tenure, he worked to broaden access to public charter schools and pressed for income tax reductions. While second on the seniority list among then-Senate members, Tillman stepped down in late June 2020, citing age as a reason to retire.

Tillman, a Chatham County native, was an honorable-mention All-American while playing baseball at what is now Elon University. At the legislature, he was known for his homespun stories during committee meetings and floor sessions, and the occasional crooning.

Tillman “played a significant role in shaping the policies that made North Carolina the best state in the nation,” Senate leader Phil Berger said in a news release Monday. “Jerry was truly larger than life. He was never afraid to share his thoughts on a particular bill and would often lighten the mood by regaling us with tales about music, racing, and baseball.”

Senator Dave Craven (R-Randolph) released the following statement about the death of former Senator Jerry Tillman: "Jerry was an incredible advocate for Randolph County. He was a dedicated educator, coach, and statesman. His leadership in the Senate ushered in a new era that transformed North Carolina's political and economic landscape. Personally, Jerry gave me the opportunity to page for him in the General Assembly when I was in high school. After that he became a mentor and it was an honor to be chosen to fill out the rest of his term when he retired. His influence will be felt in Randolph County for generations to come. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones."

Tillman was preceded in death by his wife, Marian. Survivors include three children and several grandchildren.

His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Feb. 25 at the Archdale Friends Meeting.

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