‘Just the Way He Wanted’
Dozens of folks gathered outside Johnson-Overturf Funeral Home on Saturday afternoon.
Most of them had on jeans and were wearing cowboy boots. There was a horse trailer there, too. Inside were a couple of Woody Tilton’s cow dogs and his grandson’s palomino horse, Lorena.
“It’s just the way he wanted it,” said Johnny Counts, Tilton’s son-in-law, who drove the truck pulling the horse trailer. “He wanted people to come out in jeans and boots, just as if they would have been outside working with cattle. He was smiling from above.”
Working with cattle is something Woodrow “Woody” Tilton enjoyed his entire life. One of the pioneering cattlemen of Putnam County, Tilton died May 6. He was 80.
To honor his memory, family members and friends watched as the homemade casket carrying Tilton’s body was sealed and loaded onto the horse trailer shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday. Led by patrol cars from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the horse trailer made its way down St. Johns Avenue before going across Memorial Bridge to the family cemetery in San Mateo.
By then, hundreds of people had gathered to show their respect for Tilton on a sunny Florida afternoon. Pallbearers placed the homemade casket underneath a tent at the burial site as visitors gathered around. On the casket were initials of Tilton’s cattle brands and family members.
“Woody had his own way of doing things,” his brother, Larry, said shortly after the funeral service got underway. “We always got along real good, unless he had a different opinion than mine.
“He was educated in his own way in the school of hard knocks, and he taught me more about life than anyone.”
Tilton was a giant in the cattle industry in Putnam County. He was also well-known throughout the state. A lifelong member of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, he served as its state director for more than 20 years.
In addition, he was the national director for the American Brahman Breeders Association for six years and known across the country for his work raising Brahman, family members said. The breed of cattle is known for their tolerance to heat in tropical regions. Tilton raised registered Brahmans and crossbred cattle throughout his life.
“Raising Brahman cattle was his passion,” said Counts, who is married to Tilton’s daughter, Gina. “He was able to produce cattle that could survive in the Florida environment. The University of Florida is trying to duplicate some of his breeds today.”
The Tilton family has a long history in Putnam County and were some of the first settlers in San Mateo, according to John Tilton, one of Woody Tilton’s younger brothers.
In addition to raising cattle, the family owned or leased thousands of acres in Putnam County, producing turpentine and timber, according to John Tilton.
“I’ve followed Woody around all my life, ever since I was old enough to walk,” John Tilton said. “He was 10 years older than me, and I went with him everywhere he went. He knew more about farming and ranching than anyone I’ve ever known.
“He was proud of his family, No. 1. And he loved his cattle and was proud of them. He enjoyed his work so much that he said he had not really worked a day in his life. He said too many people cursed the sunrise because they had to go to a job they didn’t like.”
Woody Tilton received numerous honors and awards throughout his life as a cattleman. He received the Outstanding Young Farmer award in 1974 from 4-H and FFA. In 2009, he won first place in the Florida Cow Dog Competition.
He also had several articles published in the Florida Cattlemen’s Journal.
Despite his agricultural success, Woody Tilton remained a humble man, according to his cousin, Keith Valentine.
“Everyone knew him,” Valentine said. “He was a quiet, simple man who kept to himself and didn’t say a whole lot. He just always made sure his family was taken care of and wanted them to carry on his legacy.”
Counts said that legacy will continue with Woody Tilton’s grandchildren.
A Putnam County resident all his life, Woody Tilton is survived by his wife of 57 years, Frances Wilder. Other survivors include his three daughters, a sister, four brothers, 10 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Gina Tilton Counts said her father would want to be remembered for his firm belief in Jesus Christ, whose principles of hard work, honesty and integrity were his character. She considered him “a giant of a man.”
“He lived a frugal life with no unnecessary conveniences and did not consume more than he produced,” she said. “He met adversity head-on with determination to overcome. No matter the task at hand, he did not yield until the job was done. He was a steward of the land and the cattle.”