Ole Miss Musings: Admiral Tom Lilly Reflects On His Service And His Family

Admiral Tom Lilly in 1988

Thomas G. (Tom) Lilly has lived a life most of us dream about. The retired Rear Admiral is anything but retired. HottyToddy.com caught up with the Admiral and his lovely wife, Connie, recently to find out what the Admiral is currently exploring.


HottyToddy.com: Admiral, before we get into your passion for Genealogy, share with our readers about your background including the Ole Miss roots.

Admiral Tom Lilly: I was born in Belzoni and graduated from Charleston HS. Attending Ole Miss from 1951-53, I transferred to Tulane in order to obtain a commission as a Navy Supply Corps officer, which I could not have done at Ole Miss.  

HottyToddy.com: Your naval career took a great number of twists and turns, landing you in some unusual ports.

Admiral Tom Lilly: Upon graduating from Tulane, I was commissioned an Ensign USN and assigned to the Navy Supply Corps School, Athens, GA. I then received orders to serve as a supply officer on the USS Betelgeuse (an Arabic-derived name for the brightest star in the constellation Orion), a cargo ship with a crew of 150 home-ported in Norfolk, VA.  Our main mission was to supply the Sixth Fleet, and, in the two years I served on the ship, we made five voyages to the Mediterranean to resupply our naval forces stationed there.    

HottyToddy.com: Your naval career, as well as your legal career, were both bright stars as you were engaged in parallel tracks.

Admiral Tom Lilly: I returned to Ole Miss to pursue a law degree while also serving in the Naval Air Reserve. Following graduation in 1960, I was later appointed an Assistant U.S. Attorney upon the recommendation of Senator Stennis and assigned to Oxford right after the 1962 riot. With some 30,000 troops stationed in Oxford, it was a most interesting era to be here.

HottyToddy.com: While you were consumed in your legal and military careers, there was little time to research your family’s roots until recently.

Admiral Tom Lilly: This interest began (actually) in the late 70’s when I was invited to speak at a Lilly family reunion in West Virginia.  Although this branch of the Lilly’s was not related to my family, it perked my interest to start exploring my own personal family history.

HottyToddy.com: Your research has revealed some interesting disclosures.

Admiral Tom Lilly: Before my Lilly ancestors came to Mississippi in the 1840s, they had lived in Chester County, SC. I have traced those roots back to Ireland where I have made three trips. One of my more interesting ancestors was an English sea Captain, James Maud Elford, who arrived in Charleston, SC, from Bristol, England in the late 1790’s.  He was my third great grandfather on my paternal grandmother’s side.

HottyToddy.com: Speaking of your father, the Ole Miss ties run deep.

Admiral Tom Lilly: My father, Sale Trice Lilly, was the quarterback on the 1927 Ole Miss team (same team with Tad Smith). He also had played halfback, was a pitcher and outfielder on the baseball team and a sprinter in track, all having been done with only one good eye. His other eye had been permanently damaged when he was hit in the eye by a BB pellet at age seven.

HottyToddy.com: Your engagement to Connie was anything but dull also.

Admiral Tom Lilly: Connie and I met on a blind date in Corinth, where I first practiced law, and our engagement was announced the same Sunday the 1962 riot occurred.  We’ve been happily married since December of that year.   

HottyToddy.com: Very few sailors ever become an Admiral.

Admiral Tom Lilly: I was officially promoted to Rear Admiral in early 1981 during the Reagan Administration.  President Carter had submitted my name for promotion to rear admiral in 1980, and the Senate had approved it that fall.       

HottyToddy.com: Returning to your genealogy research, you also uncovered some Civil War historical significance.

Admiral Tom Lilly: One of my great-grandfathers, Robert Gill Lilly, lived in Pontotoc County. Two of his sons left a boys’ school in TN to fight at the ages of 12 and 14, and, at age 45, he became an officer of a home guard cavalry unit. The older son survived the war, having served in the cavalry. Two other great grandfathers also served.

HottyToddy.com: Your current investigating has taken you all the way back to the American Revolution.

Admiral Tom Lilly: I have thus far documented sixteen lineal ancestors as patriots. One ancestor, Captain Gabriel Slacum of Dorchester County, MD, was captured off the northern coast of Spain by a British Man of War. He later escaped the prison in Portsmouth, England, and made it to France. He returned to his family after a seven-year absence and had been presumed dead.


We could have talked with the Admiral for hours as the discussion only got more and more intriguing. Connie and Tom have traveled worldwide in pursuit of business, charitable activities, and church-related affairs. They have two sons (Jerry and Bill) who both live in Oxford and a daughter, Carolyn, who lives with her family in Chapel Hill, NC.

Tom’s profile has appeared in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in American Law.


Steve VassalloSteve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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