Donald Heath Tilson Jr.
1930 - 2020
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March 23, 1930 ˜ June 8, 2020

Dr. Tilson passed away quietly in his home on June 8, 2020. He achieved the age of 90 years. He was a very inspiring man with his commitment to his family, career, medicine, and his country.
He was born on March 23, 1930 in Tarrytown, NY to Donald Heath Tilson and Anne Coe Tilson. Don was raised throughout the United States as times were difficult with the end of the Depression and the beginning of WWII. Eventually, the family settled in St. Louis, MO where Don graduated from Country Day School (1947) and went on to Harvard University. In 1951 he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He then returned to St. Louis to attend Washington University School of Medicine and received his M.D. in 1955.
Don married Kirtley Jane Gunn in 1954, whom he referred to as “the love of his life” and started a family prior to going off to Buffalo General Hospital for his General Surgery Residency and joining the U.S. Army. Military medicine led him throughout the country. Within a short time he had finished his residency in orthopedics and was towing around four sons as well as his bride. He was assigned to Madigan Army Hospital, Ft. Lewis, WA, then Tripler Army Medical Center, Honolulu, HI. Next it was McDonald Hospital, Ft. Eustis, VA, and Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, TX. In Texas, he got his degree in hospital administration from Baylor University.
In 1966, then Maj. Tilson received his orders to report to Vietnam. He was to command the 17th Field Hospital, 44rd Medical Brigade, Saigon. This is the only time he could not bring his family, but communicated to them regularly via taped messages. He spent most of 1967 in Vietnam and was rotated out of country mid-January 1968, days prior to the Tet Offensive where the hospital and the hotel he was billeted in were bombed and destroyed. He was on the way home stateside when he received the report from his replacement titled HAVING A TERIBLE TIME...WISH YOU WERE HERE.
He was proud of his service and his troops in Saigon, but was mostly proud to be the personal physician of General William Westmoreland while in Vietnam.
After returning stateside, he was assigned back to Tacoma, WA; then it was on to Gorgas Hospital, Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, Panama. Lastly, it was back stateside to Womack Army Hospital, Ft. Bragg, NC, where on 7/7/77 Don left the U.S. Army, retiring as a full Colonel (Regular Army), a distinction he also was very proud of, thus ending his career as a soldier.
In 1977, Dr. Donald Tilson entered phase two of his career, joining up with Kaiser Permanente and their medical group practicing as an Orthopedic Surgeon. In the early 1980s surgery was becoming harder on his eyes and hands and Don decided on phase three of his career-Occupational Medicine. He pursued and acquired another residency from Duke University School of Medicine in Occupational and Industrial Medicine. No small achievement for a man in his 60s. Don continued with Kaiser into his 85th year. In 2015, he retired the practice of medicine after a total of over 60 years, and of those 37 working for Kaiser. It has been suggested that he was the oldest consistently working physician for Kaiser.
One of Don’s great passions was classical music especially Mozart. He frequently could cite Köchel’s Catalogue Number while listening to a selection, and would remind his sons of how old “Wolfie” was when he wrote it. Don loved golf not as much for the game, but for the excuse to walk in the grass with his sons. He also enjoyed swimming. He was a voracious reader and often frequented the public libraries.
Don was preceded in death by his wife Kirtley, son John, brother Bill, and infant sister Annabelle.
He is survived by his brother Hugh (Judy), his sons Donald (Karen), Charles (Laura), William “Wally” (Janine), his daughter-in-law Vicki (John), brother-in-law Michael Gunn (Jeanette); along with 8 grandchildren, 9 great-grandchildren, many nieces and nephews all of whom he loved greatly.
In the near future, Don will join his beloved wife of almost 60 years in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. He touched so many lives, especially those of his sons who carry what they can of his legacy. It was an honor for all his sons to have him as their father.
He will be sincerely missed.
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Published in The Columbian on Jul. 12, 2020.
Memories & Condolences
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5 entries
July 14, 2020
My husband and I only met Dr. Tilson once when he came to hear his son Don play music at the Northwood restaurant in Battle Ground . I remember how proud he seemed to be of his boys and how much he appreciated conversation. After reading his obituary, I realize what a talented, driven, and intelligent man he was. May he rest in peace. Our condolences to his family. John and Michelle Doherty

Michelle Doherty
July 13, 2020
loved Dr. Tilson and his wonderful wife. They were the nicest people and you loved seeing them together. I loved going to Kaiser and seeing my "foot doctor". As a waitress I was there a lot. And as a clumsy person, even more than that. The first time he saw me in a cast that was totally made wrong, he said come to my office tomorrow. I said I don't have an appointment. He said tell the receptionist I sent you, and eyes were rolled when I walked in but they got me in. He was a magic doctor with broken toes and broken bones and he always had a smile and made you feel better. I missed him for many years and still miss him today.

the first time he asked me if I was in Kaiser
Cora wohlsein
July 13, 2020
I was a medical assistant who often worked with Dr. Tilson in Occupational Health at Kaiser. I remember when he was still a young man in his 70's asking him why he didn't retire. He looked at me and said "Roy I enjoy being a physician more than I enjoy playing golf". That was Doctor Tilson his loved being a physician and he loved his patients. I remember the intense suffering he went through with shingles. He insisted that I should get the shingles vaccine as I was about 60 at the time. He was a caring person. I will always have many good memories of working with Dr. Tilson.
Roy Cavins
July 12, 2020
I met Dr Tilson several times at Kaiser clinic on Mill Plain in the 80's. He did several procedures for me that required skill and practice. I am the daughter of a an RN from WWII and view Doctors as just slightly higher than God. I can't help it. It took me a few minutes to adjust to this older, very easygoing and comforting man who was going to put a big, long needle into my shoulder joint. Needless to say he completed the procedure painlessly for me. I appreciated his skill, his compassion, his humanity and his dedication to his gift as healer. 35 or 40 years later when I saw his picture and read his obituary I recognized him. Says a lot about the kind of man he was. I wish peace for you in your time of grief.
Susan Neff
July 12, 2020
Such a kind and brilliant man. He took the time to recognize the younger staff and encourage all those around him.
Theresa Laskiewicz MD
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