Cecile Quillen devoted her life to helping her husband

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF

   Cecile Cox Quillen was as devoted to her husband, former Congressman James H. "Jimmy" Quillen, as he was to his constituency, according to state Rep. Ralph Cole, close personal friend of the Quillens.
   A Greene County native, Cecile Quillen, 85, died around 12:30 p.m. Friday at Indian Path Medical Center following a heart attack after efforts to revive her failed. Mrs. Quillen had a history of stroke and seizure.
   Though the Quillens did not get to say their good-byes, the couple, who were married 49 years, both were in Indian Path at the time of Mrs. Quillen's death.
   Cecile Quillen suffered a massive stroke in 1981, leaving her paralyzed on one side. She had a second stroke in 1992 and spent three months at the James H. and Cecile C. Quillen Center for Rehabilitative Medicine in Johnson City, which was named for the couple in 1991.
   "Cecile, before she had her stroke, was a very energetic person," Rep. Cole said. "Jimmy always gave her credit for getting him elected to Congress."
   Quillen served eight years in the Tennessee General Assembly and 34 years in Congress.
   "He's always told me that without her hard work in the campaign that he wouldn't have been elected," Cole said. "They've been devoted to each other all of these years."
   Mrs. Quillen first met her husband while she was employed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She also worked at Tennessee Eastman Co. of Kingsport. Her future husband at that time worked in real estate, construction, and insurance.
   Rep. Cole said Mrs. Quillen loved to go out to dinner, and even after suffering a severe stroke, "any time that he was home, he took her out to dinner."
   It was during one such outing on Christmas Eve that the former Congressman fell and fractured his hip, resulting in him undergoing hip-replacement surgery on Christmas Day.
   "He had taken her out to dinner and was helping her into the car when he fell," Cole said.
   Quillen was released from the hospital about a week later, but was hospitalized again recently and reportedly underwent another procedure Friday. He turned 86 on Jan. 11. His wife would have celebrated her 86th birthday Feb. 28, according to Cole. "He always had a birthday dinner for himself and for her and we always attended."
   Though Cole and his wife, Delores, did not know the Quillens in 1952, they were married on the same day, the same year.
   "We always celebrated our anniversaries together. We've been dear friends for 25 years," Cole said.
   "Jimmy Quillen's kind hand has touched and helped more people than any other person in the state of Tennessee. His wife, Cecile, has been beside him all those years."
   She was his most loyal and enthusiastic supporter in her role as wife, counselor, campaign worker, hostess, companion and best friend, according to Joe White, Conservator for Quillen.
   "She was the best helpmate any man could every hope for," Congressman Quillen often said.
   "We've taken trips with them and when he'd go on a trip he'd always take a couple of nurses to care for her," said Rep. Cole. "Jimmy Quillen devoted his life to constituent service. That was his main reason for being in Congress.
   "He was in there to help people and she's always been beside him. And since her long illness, he's always been beside her," Cole said.
   The Tennessee Association for Home Health named its annual award "The Cecile Cox Quillen Award" in 1983. She was honored in 1996 with creation of the Cecile Cox Quillen Chair of Excellence Research Laboratory at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Johnson City.
   She is survived by her husband, a sister and brother.
   Hamlett-Dobson Funeral Homes is in charge of arrangements, which are incomplete.