The world needs superheroes—not the kind from comic books or the movies but real-life superheroes. Colonel Taft Rosco Gilliam was a superhero. The fictitious Captain America paled in comparison to our real-life Colonel America. Taft did not drink super soldier serum to reach his full potential like his cartoon counterpart. Taft’s superpowers were courage, integrity and unwavering love of country and they were innate.
His origin story began 83 years ago on November 1, 1937. Born to Marvin Taft and Emma Mae Gilliam (née Winston) in Bellefonte, Virginia, he was the 5th of 12 children. As the son of a farmer, he grew accustomed to hard work, but his beautiful mind and dogged determination would transport him from the fields of Virginia to many faraway places.
Taft graduated from Virginia State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Systems Management in 1959. He was a proud member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He went on to join the US Army on April 5, 1960, which would prove to be his professional home for the next 27 years.
On May 26, 1962, he married a smart, beautiful, feisty young woman from Philadelphia named Theola (“Pixie”) Rainey. Taft and Pixie met at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California. At the time, she outranked him. He happily allowed her to outrank him long after she left the US Army. At work, he was “Sir” and eventually “Colonel Gilliam”; however, at home he was simply “Gil”.
His career took him to many exotic places. A country boy from small town USA received international deployments to Taiwan, Luxembourg, Vietnam, Korea and [West] Germany. His domestic assignments included stints in California, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Illinois and Alabama. During the course of his travels, he managed to maintain focus on education earning a Master of Science degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California in 1977, as well as various diplomas from the US Army War College, the US Army Command and General Staff College and more.
Between deployments, Taft found time to start a family. After all, superheroes need love too. Pixie and Taft had three children: Michael, Sean and Christianne. He lovingly referred to them as “MBG”, “Flipper” and “Christi Maria-a-a” respectively.
Taft retired from the US Army on August 31, 1987, having received numerous medals and commendations including the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry Unit Citation with Palm, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation Bronze Star Medal with 1st Oak Leaf Cluster, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with 1st Oak Leaf Cluster and Legion of Merit. See, I told you he was a real-life superhero!
Upon retirement, he bravely tackled one of the toughest challenges of his life…being a grandpa. Taft and Pixie became the custodians of three of their grandchildren, Isis, Isaiah and Isadora. The hours were long, the hazards were many from diaper duty to vomit cleanup detail and the medals/commendations were nonexistent. But the pay was fantastic! He was paid in hugs, kisses and unconditional love. Had he known this, perhaps he would have given up the title “Colonel” in exchange for “Grandpa” much sooner.
In addition to caring for his grandchildren, Taft’s pastimes included golfing, reading, museum going and fussing at the news. He also mastered the art of masonry post-retirement. If you’ve ever visited Gilliam Manor, you may have seen the intricate network of handmade bricks that he crafted into a retaining wall. His very favorite pastime, however, was doting on his wife and satisfying her every need. Their love was so deep that one could not bear to be on this earth without the other. Pixie passed away on November 27, 2020, and Taft passed away just 6 days later on December 3, 2020. They were married for 58 years.
Taft was preceded in death by both of his parents, his beloved wife, Pixie, and his siblings Willy Gilliam, Lucy Wells, Frances Procise, Barbara Tucker, Daniel Gilliam and Abraham Gilliam. He is survived by his three children Michael Gilliam, Sean (Michelle) Gilliam and Christianne Gilliam, his siblings Helen Dabney, Andrew (Sherry) Gilliam, Haywood (Audrey) Gilliam, Gloria (Herbert) Crossland and Barry (Shirley) Gilliam, his sisters-in-law Dr. Averill Maxine Pritchett and Myrtle Bastien, his grandchildren Isis Randall, Isaiah Randall, Isadora Randall, Mikayla Gilliam, Aiden Gilliam and Isabella Lee, as well as a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
Until Valhalla, Colonel Gilliam! We love you and miss you already, Dad!
Private family services for both Taft and his wife Pixie are 11:00 a.m. Tuesday in the Horizon Room at Trimble Funeral Home at Trimble Pointe, 701 12th Street, Moline, with The Rev. Dr. Melvin Grimes officiating. The service will be streamed at Facebook.com/TrimbleFuneralHome. Burial will be in Rock Island National Cemetery where Moline American Legion Post 246 will present military honors for the couple. Memorials may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Taft’s family invites friends to share stories and condolences and view his memorial tribute video at TrimbleFuneralHomes.com.