annie blog

Joseph Franklin Gilliland


Well, y’all, my precious daddy died today. Here is the obituary I wrote for him.

He was a lovely, lovely man.

Judge Joseph Franklin Gilliland of Russellville, Alabama, died on Sunday, March 23, 2014.

He was born on November 25, 1940, in Sylacauga, Alabama. After high school, he received a bachelors degree from Jacksonville State University, where he was known to everyone as “Coosa Joe”. He taught high school for five years and then went back to school, first to Louisiana State University where he earned a Masters in Constitutional Law and then on to Alabama Law School where he earned a Juris Doctorate. After receiving his law degree, he clerked at the Court of Criminal Appeals in Montgomery before moving to Franklin County in 1972 to become an attorney. He then served as District Court Judge for Franklin County. Following that, he taught as an adjunct professor at Northwest Community College. He later served as a judge for the Social Security Administration in Montgomery before transferring to the Florence, Alabama, office. His final position was Hearing Office Chief Law Judge for the Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in Florence, Alabama.

Some of the great loves of his life were those of beauty, compassion, flowers, art, and music. His many club memberships and years of volunteer service reflected those loves. He was integral to the formation of the Art Council of Franklin County and to the existence of Project Help. He used his musical talents frequently over the years as the organist and choir director of First United Methodist Church, Russellville, and also as organist at the Good Shepherd Catholic Church. He took great delight in playing the piano each week for the Earnest Workers Sunday school class and was instrumental to the acquisition of the beautiful organ at First United Methodist Church, Russellville. He was very active in the Master Gardeners Club and was known far and wide for his gorgeous roses. He also loved a good game of bridge, sunsets, fall leaves, traveling, befriending strangers, Snickers candy bars, showing kindness, shocking folks with hilarious comments, finding the upside of every situation, and eating cheese biscuits on Saturday mornings. He delighted in people — having old friends and making new ones all the time.

In the last decade of his life he struggled through many health crises. In spite of all of these challenges, the love for his family and work gave him the strength to battle the setbacks with ferocity and a valiant determination.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 46 years, Sue Smith Gilliland, and daughters, Ann Gilliland Barlow (Jon) of Starkville, Mississippi, and Deana Gilliland Heath (Ezra) of Vestavia Hills, Alabama. He had 6 grandsons: James, Nathan, Charlie, and Eli Barlow, and Harrison Joseph and Michael Gilley Heath. He was preceded in death by his sister Elizabeth McGrady and brother Buddy Gilliland. His remaining siblings are Virginia Hughes, Donald Gilliland (Marie), Robert Gilliland (Gail), and Jimmy Gilliland (Mildred). He leaves many nieces and nephews. His friends are legion.

His family would like to express sincere gratitude to the outstanding nurses in the ICU ward of ECM Hospital, Florence, and to Drs. Paul, Holden, and Lango.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Building Fund of First United Methodist Church, Russellville, or to the Russellville Public Library.

On Tuesday, March 25th, visitation will be held from 12 until 2 at First United Methodist Church, Russellville, with the funeral following at 2 p.m. He will be buried in a private service at 5 p.m. in Holly Pond, Alabama.

To everyone who ever asked how he was, he always replied, “I’m beautiful, of course!”

He was right.


  1. A sweet tribute, Annie…I know you will miss him.

  2. This is a lovely summary of your father’s life. As someone else said, it makes me wish I had known him. Prayers for you and yours from the Donathans.

  3. Ann, my heart breaks for your loss. I pray the Lord provide you and your family with abundant strength and comfort during the days and weeks ahead. The obituary is a precious snapshot of a life well lived.

  4. So sorry for your loss. Praying for your family.

  5. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your father sounds like an amazing, talented, and generous man. What a lucky daughter you are to have had him in your life! Your tribute to him is beautiful.

  6. Love to you, sweet sister. Praying for comfort for you and your momma. May the peace of Christ fill your hearts. XO

  7. The Lord was good to him and to you. To have had a loving father is a true gift. The Lord be with you and your family, Annie!

  8. Bob and I were very sorry to hear of your Dad’s passing. We want you to know that we’re praying for you and your family, You’ve written such a beautiful tribute to him.
    Shan and Bob

  9. I am sorry for your loss. Your tribute is very kind.

  10. I’m so very sorry for your loss. Your tribute here is beautiful, and your love of life and beauty continue his legacy.

    I will pray for peace and comfort.


  11. Thanks, y’all, for your condolences and kind words!

  12. This is just so beautiful, and I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear daddy.

  13. Annie, I didn’t see this ’til just now. I’m so sorry for you & Deana and your Mom, as well as the whole family. I’m glad I was able to know your Dad. I can even hear his slow, high pitched southern drawl, right now. Of course I didn’t know him with tremendous depth, but I do suppose that I knew him with the breadth of close to 15 years of next door grandkid visits, and periodic sightings and visits in church. He always called our kids by name, and that was very sweet. I know my older two have memories of him for sure. God bless you and your family as you grieve, remember, and adjust to life without him. Please express our condolences to your mother. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  14. Your dad and I were classmates at judge school in July 2004- and I saw him several times after his remarkable recovery. I was real happy to see his sense of humor had not been affected.
    I had not known of his love of church music. Despite my being an Episcopalean,
    I know we could have shared many hymns.

    My condolences to you and your family

  15. Though I never knew your father I send my condolences to you and your family. I was just scanning the net and seen this notice. I feel that we are distantly related since John Gilliland’s children, a James and Abel migrated to Alabama in the early 1800s. Presently, my wife and I live in Kentucky where John and Elizabeth Gilliland son Robert migrated to in 1799.
    I know the pain of losing a father and I am sorry for your pain. May God Bless you and your family.
    Curtis Gilliland

  16. That is beautiful. I am so, so sorry for your loss.

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