Emily Gillham Middleton
Harlem, GA—In Memory of
Emily Gillham Middleton
May 30, 1935 - April 22, 2021
Emily Helen Gillham Middleton of Harlem, Georgia, passed to the next life on Thursday, April 22nd, 2021 as her seven month challenge with cancer came to an end. She was 85.
Emily was born May 30th, 1935 in Knoxville, Tennessee to William Tucker Gillham and Frances Holsenbeck Gillham. Her father had a storied military career that included support of Gen. MacArthur with the post-WWII reforms in Japan as well as becoming an executive of AT&T. Her mother instilled in Emily and her two younger sisters, Monty and Martha, a positive outlook on life and a purpose of caring for those around them. Frances also held an executive position with the Girl Scouts.
As an Army family, the Gillhams moved often, and Emily frequently recounted, "I lived in eighteen different places by the time I was 18!" But of all those spots growing up, her favorite by far was La Jolla, California with its rugged coastline, bright sunny days, and winding trails that the 7-year-old Emily explored often.
1949 saw the Gillham's next-to-last move to New Orleans where Emily embarked on her college studies at Tulane. Then in 1955 the Gillhams found their final home in Atlanta, and Emily transferred to Agnes Scott College in Decatur. She commuted to school every day with other classmates. During this time at a weekend party, she met a handsome and very intelligent young man from Emory University named Russell Middleton, and soon she was enamored. "He was so nice to me!"
That attraction quickly blossomed into genuine love, and on December 22, 1956, Emily and Russell were married at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. Emily and Russ loved each other very much and it remained that way for 60 years.
The newlyweds first home was in Decatur and Emily continued her senior year studies at ASC. Said Emily regarding her education there: "I appreciated having professors who were scholars all, with good character, who were approachable and accessible to us." That same year Emily excitedly found that she was pregnant with the first of what would be two sons, Billy. Emily graduated near the top of her class in 1957. In fact that ceremony marked a progressive change in policy as it was the first year that pregnant graduates were allowed to walk across the stage. This included Emily and the valedictorian.
The young Middleton family resided in Decatur for eight years as Russ began his career with the state of Georgia as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Certainly the highlight was the 1959 birth of their second son, Marshall.
In 1965 the family moved to Athens for two years, then to Atlanta for two, then to Augusta in 1969. In January 1970 Emily initiated her lifelong career as an educator. She taught Georgia history at Butler High in Augusta for two years. Then came her dream job: Columbia County posted an opening for a media specialist at the middle school in Harlem. Emily leapt at the chance and started there in January 1972. She stayed in that role for 22 years until she retired in 1994. Many a Harlem resident came through her library and fondly recall "Miss Emily" to this day.
Also in the 70s (and never being one to sit still) Emily sparked the fuse on her natural abilities as an artist. She took up painting and studied art at the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in Augusta. Painting and art appreciation developed into her passions. She quickly became skilled with oil, pastel, watercolor, pencil and charcoal. She generously gifted many of her works to family and friends. As well, a collection of her best canvases hang today in her own home.
Impressionism influenced her art style the most. And of the many heralded painters of that art movement, Claude Monet was her clear favorite. Her personal library holds many volumes about Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cassatt and other Impressionists.
In 1975 Emily and Russ discovered a house and home in Harlem that would be their last. Over 100 years old, it featured solid construction, 12 -foot ceilings, cross-ventilating windows, and traditional Southern style. And was this house ever perfect for Emily's penchant for entertaining. She liked nothing more than serving tea in the proper British style, or inviting family and friends for a sit-down to celebrate all of the birthdays and holidays.
Family was top priority for Emily. Her mantles and tables were overflowing with pictures of family. She attended every rite-of-passage of dear ones: Graduations, weddings, school plays and musicals. No birthday was missed and she always sent a birthday card in plenty of time which included a handwritten message and a crisp $20 bill.
Writes her niece, "It is nearly impossible to sum up what Aunt Emily has meant to us. I think of her as always being inclusive, cheerfully bringing connections to the fore, always with added stories and information, bringing to light a bigger picture to any situation. My memories are of her doing this not just with a smile, but often with a warm laugh too. I grew up thinking it was perhaps an ordinary thing to be so perceptive, passionate, and articulate, while at the same time socially brilliant. It turns out there are very few people who possess all these qualities in such abundance."
And Emily would travel. She made multiple trips to Europe, always including family members on these adventures. She had an eye for beauty, history, architecture and fine arts. Recounts her nephew: "She pioneered the Aunt Emily Moment, that moment when you see a view, a building, or a work of art, and you put your hand on your chest and blurt out a sigh of elated surprise!"
From a niece, "She lived a wonderful, meaningful life as evidenced by the family that will miss her."
Emily Middleton is survived by her sons, William R (Bill) Middleton IV (Laurie) and Marshall Gillham Middleton, her sister Martha Gillham Waskey (Jack), and grandsons Gillham Thomas Middleton and Morgan Russell Middleton.
In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband William Russell (Russ) Middleton III, sister Montague (Monty) Gillham Caldwell, brother-in-law Cullen Jackson (Jack) Caldwell Jr, and niece Rachel Frances Caldwell.
Visitation will be held at Starling Funeral Home, 435 W. Milledgeville Road in Harlem on Thursday April 29th from 5:00 to 7:00pm. The graveside service begins on Friday April 30th at 1:00pm at South Harlem Cemetery on South Bell Street in Harlem.
In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Thomson, Georgia; The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
; or to a charity of your choice
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The Augusta Chronicle - April 27, 2021
Published by The Augusta Chronicle from Apr. 25 to Apr. 27, 2021.