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An Interview With Marie Tillman

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Tom Matlack sits down with Pat Tillman's widow, Marie, to discuss the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Inspired by the life and legacy of Pat Tillman--a professional athlete, military hero and a kind and good man--The Pat Tillman Foundation is a national leader in providing resources and educational support to veterans, active service members and their dependents.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Pat proudly put his NFL career on hold to serve his country. The decision was just one of many he made over the course of his life to help others and serve a cause greater than his own self-interest.

Pat was killed while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan. To advance Pat's legacy of leadership and civic action, in 2004 Tillman's family and friends created the Pat Tillman Foundation to support future generations of leaders who embody the American tradition of citizen service.

Marie Tillman is the founder and chair of the Pat Tillman Foundation. A native of San Jose, California, Marie graduated with honors from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and launched a career in marketing and special event production. After her husband's death, Marie created the Pat Tillman Foundation, which is dedicated to building a new community of veteran scholars and advocating on behalf of military families.

Hunter I. Riley is the program director of the Pat Tillman Foundation.

MATLACK: Marie, can you give me a sense of why you started the program and what it's all about for you?

TILLMAN:  The organization started shortly after Pat was killed. People across the country started sending money, and we decided to put together a foundation and a nonprofit so that we could do something positive in Pat's name.

One of the first things we did was endow a leadership service program at Arizona State University [Tillman's alma mater], and through that experience we met Marines who were trying to reacclimate to being home and being on a college campus. We saw not only the enormous potential that these men and women have, but some of the challenges, too.

More people are coming home and a lot of them... want to go back and get an education. So, we started the Tillman Military Scholars program. We are very proud that in the first two classes of the Tillman Military Scholars, we have pledged over $1.3 million in scholarship support to 111 veterans, active service members and dependents attending 46 universities in 28 states.

The response has been great, and we've found that it is filling an enormous need out there for men and women who are coming home.

We will not be saying, "here's $1,000, here's $2,000, and good luck to you." Instead, we say, "we will be with you throughout your educational experience." We want to understand the challenges they're facing and help them in a meaningful way.

We gave $642,000 last year to military veterans, active service members and their families, so that children or spouses--also surviving children and spouses of military members who were killed in action--could benefit from the allocated funds. That program is our major focus right now.

MATLACK: What's the goal of the Tillman Scholars?

RILEY:  Each of these students selected as a Tillman Scholar is chosen as someone who will continue the legacy that Pat left; someone who embodies all the characteristics he had as an everyday leader.

MATLACK: How many of the scholars last year were veterans, and how many were folks who were related to veterans?

RILEY:  Sevnty-five percent of the scholars were veterans or on active duty. Twenty-five percent were dependents.

MATLACK: How do you pick?

RILEY:  It's a pretty thorough selection process, Tom. We open the application up to anyone and everyone. Wherever you want to go to school, and whatever degree you want to pursue, you are eligible to apply.

We ask folks to tell us their stories. This year we got over 1,500 applications. We find a diversity of people from all different branches of the military, with all different personal interests, and educational and career goals. Fifty-five of those 1,500 applicants will be selected for a scholarship.

MATLACK: We're all about men's stories. Is there a story that sticks out in your mind?

RILEY:  There's a guy from Los Angeles--Richard Garcia--who's attending the University of Maryland. He grew up in government housing. His parents were immigrants, both deaf. He went through a Los Angeles County police mentoring program, and his mentor was in the Marine Corps.

Later, he joined the Marine Corps, and through his enlistment, he found the strength to know that he could actually go to school outside of Los Angeles and get out of the projects.

Richard recently graduated with a bachelor's in sociology from the University of Maryland. He wants to get his master's in hearing and speech so he can use his experiences--growing up with deaf parents and knowing American Sign Language--to help the deaf community. He is currently attending the University of D.C. for his graduate degree.

MATLACK: How would you define a good man?

TILLMAN:  I think someone who is honest, true to himself and willing to stand up for what he believes in.

MATLACK: What advice would you give to teenage boys who are trying to figure out how to be a man? What do you think Pat would have said?

TILLMAN:  That's a tough one. Obviously, an education is key to success. Also, being open and exposing yourself to new people and new ideas.

RILEY:  My advice is to work hard and have a positive attitude and outlook on life---that will get you places.

MATLACK: And then the last one, we asked guys what their favorite guy ritual is. Hunter, what's your favorite guy ritual?

RILEY:  For me, being from Arkansas, it was floating down the Buffalo River. I guess in a broader sense, getting outdoors.

MATLACK: Marie, would you be willing to share with me something that Pat liked to do that was a guy ritual?

TILLMAN:  I would say a guy ritual is college football.

MATLACK: Thank you for your time.

Find out more about the Pat Tillman Foundation and the Tillman Military Scholars program at www.pattillmanfoundation.org

In this Good Men Project Magazine special section:

♦ Tom Matlack interviews Pat Tillman's widow, Marie. "The organization started shortly after Pat was killed. People across the country started sending money, and we decided to put together a foundation and a nonprofit so that we could do something positive in Pat's name...We will not be saying, "here's $1,000, here's $2,000, and good luck to you." Instead, we say, "we will be with you throughout your educational experience." We want to understand the challenges they're facing and help them in a meaningful way."

♦ Andrew Ladd weaves his take on the Tillman narrative through a review of Jon Krakauer's Where Men Win Glory."Through judicious excerpts of Tillman's letters and diaries, and a thoughtful eye for detail, to give us an inspiring portrait of his subject--one that shows him not as a stereotypical Great Man, I don't think, but rather as a mostly unremarkable man who always tried his best to do great things."

♦ Three-time Pulitzer Prize-nominated war photojournalist Michael Kamber reacts to the Pat Tillman Story. "Both the soldiers interviewed in the movie and the Tillman family refused to let themselves be used by the military or the government. They insisted on the truth, painful and muddled as it turned out to be. They remind us that bravery is not just the willingness to fight on the battlefield, but the willingness to fight for what's right. They are great American patriots."

♦ Desert Storm veteran John Oliver examines the Tillman story through the lens of a former Army Ranger. "Tillman's central story, wherein a seemingly invincible celebrity voluntarily reduces his influence for the sake of his ideals, is sadly rare in the public consciousness. I only wish that the public might discover what most of my Ranger buddies know, that within the warrior community, Corporal Pat Tillman was just one among many to eschew comfort for something greater than themselves."

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