Claire Gibson Nicols Hilliard passed away Monday, January 20, 2020, at Hospice Ministries in Ridgeland.
A visitation was held at the Madison United Methodist Church, beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday, January 23, 2020, with a memorial service following at 10:30 a.m. A brief graveside service was held at the Montgomery Memorial Cemetery in Madison.
Born on June 23, 1935, in New Orleans, LA, Claire was the beloved only child of Walter Barnette Nicols Jr. and Mary Gibson Nicols. Following the death of Claire’s father in 1950, her mother relocated to Jackson to serve as the legal secretary for her nephews, attorneys Charles and Al Crisler. Claire moved to Anguilla to live with her uncle and aunt, John and Lora Noble, whose eight children soon came to think of Claire as their “little sister.” Elbert Hilliard noticed this beautiful, new girl in the Anguilla High School cafeteria on the first day of the 1950-51 school session, but it would take him a while to get the courage to ask her out. They began dating during the summer of 1952 and were married in the Anguilla Methodist Church on August 3, 1958.
Claire majored in elementary education, graduating from Delta State College in 1957 with a B.S.E. and joined the Jackson Public School System, where she taught at Lester Elementary School. Following their marriage, she moved with Elbert to Starkville, helping to support him during the year that he was in graduate school. They then joined the Natchez-Adams County School System, where she taught at the historic Institute School (now the headquarters of the Historic Natchez Foundation). In June of 1960, she and Elbert moved to Madison to join the Madison County School System, where she taught first grade at Madison-Ridgeland School and at the new Ridgeland Elementary School until the arrival of their first child. Through the years, she has been remembered and esteemed by her students.
Claire was an active and faithful member of the Madison United Methodist Church and the Lamplighters/Truthseekers Sunday School Class for more than 59 years, as well as a dedicated member of the Naomi Ruth Chapter of the Madison UMC United Methodist Women and a longtime member of the Annandale Chapter, Mississippi State Society, Daughters of the American Revolution and The Official Mississippi Women’s Club. For more than 54 years, Claire was a faithful supporter of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Like her husband, she was a lifetime member of the Mississippi Historical Society and a regular attendee of the Society’s annual meetings. She was loved and revered by MDAH staff members, who looked forward to her bringing her delicious old-fashioned chocolate and lemon icebox pies to the Department’s Christmas luncheon and “Tomato Sandwich Day.”
In addition to her husband, Elbert Hilliard, Claire is survived by her beloved daughters, Lee Michelle Hilliard of Homewood, AL, and Tessa Lynelle Hilliard Minchew and her husband, Rudy Gauthier, of Raleigh, NC; first cousins, Jean Noble Salyer Phillips of Brookhaven, Miriam Noble Auter of Picayune; Tom Gibson of Rosedale, and Alfred G. Nicols, Jr. of Jackson; first cousins-in-law, Regina Noble of Columbia, SC, Frances Noble of Brandon, and Mary Nicols of Jackson; second cousin, Betty Ammons Brown, the Nicols family genealogist of Jackson; numerous other cousins in the Nicols, Noble, and Barlow family lines, and her longtime special friend, Eva Lancaster of Birmingham, AL.
The Hilliard family wishes to express its gratitude to the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Hospice Ministries doctors and nurses who attended and cared for Claire, and special thanks to Dr. John Clark Henegan, UMC oncologist, and his nurse, Michele Harrison; Dr. Whitney Raju and nurse practitioner, Greg Tisdale, of Hospice Ministries, as well as love and appreciation to the wonderful private caregivers who helped care for Claire during the past three months — Geraldine Garrett, Kelsea Spann, Pat Thomas, and Shanton Wilson — and the Reverend Linda Rickman, Congregational Care, Madison UMC, for her visits and spiritual support.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to CARA, P. O. Box 231, Clinton, MS 39060; Madison United Methodist Church Congregational Care Ministry, 100 Post Oak Road, Madison, MS 39110; UMMC Cancer Institute, Patient Support, 2500 N. State Street, Guyton 2, Suite G751-5, Jackson, MS 39216-4505, Hospice Ministries, Inc., 450 Towne Center Boulevard, Ridgeland, MS 39157-4804; or a favorite charity.