Remembering Mark Tilton: A True Friend, Mentor, and Leader

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Mark Tilton passed at the age of 83 on Sunday, January 16, 2022. His legacy and loss are deeply felt by his family, friends, and our New Hampton School community. His students and colleagues have connected with him through many roles through decades of his work; as a friend, mentor, coach, advisor, house parent, teacher—in short, he was akin to family to many. He was a true friend and leader.

A native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Mark attended Portsmouth High School, where he participated in football, basketball, and track. He went on to University of New Hampshire for his undergraduate degree and received his Master’s in Education from University of Southern Maine. Before arriving in New Hampton, Mark taught at Berlin High School beginning in 1964 for a notable 22 years, both as a teacher and coach. His time at New Hampton School began as a parent, as his son Jon ’83 completed a postgraduate year. Three years later, in 1986, Mark was hired by Headmaster Lou Gnerre.


Family, Friend, and Mentor

The Tilton family soon became ingrained in campus life, including his wife Sandy, his four children (Jennifer, Paul, Jay ’88, and Jon ’83), and several grandchildren—many of whom also attended New Hampton School over the years and provided many additional opportunities for Mark to visit campus, whether cheering them on at their games, attending Grandparents Day, and standing beside them at each of their Commencements. His daughter Jennifer (Tilton) McMahon joined the faculty at the School, arriving in 1989, where she currently serves as the Director of Studies. He was a proud and devoted husband, father, and grandfather.

Mark’s tenure highlighted a commitment to education and the value of a strong work ethic, the merit of being a team player, and a good person. Throughout his years here, he served as a mentor, teacher, coach, dorm parent, and even as an Athletic Director for a time. In speaking of Coach Tilton, who immediately found his way onto the game fields and courts, there is always much to commend. Mark’s junior varsity football team went undefeated in his first year. His varsity B men’s basketball team captured the Lakes Region Championship the following year. Mark was part of four varsity football championships, three men’s varsity A basketball championships (one as an assistant coach and two as head coach), and three women’s basketball championships. The women’s program thrived under his leadership, growing from a Class C to a Class A over the years. None of his teams experienced a losing season.


Mark Tilton Hall of Fame

A Life Well-Lived

When thinking about Mark and his incredible relationship-building ability, it is also notable that he earned the respect of coaches, teams, and directors at peer schools and club programs in addition to his colleagues at New Hampton School. And when Mark called on alumni to come back to Reunion, to Powder Keg, or to honor a teammate—people always rallied in response. He was the honored speaker at the School’s 183rd Commencement in 2005, and numerous yearbooks were dedicated in his honor by his students. Mark seemed to leave an impression on all who knew him, no matter how short of a time together, not the least of which was through his frequent aphorisms.

Years of alumni and faculty alike benefitted in the wisdom of his tenets. On being true to yourself, he shared, “Be what you is, because if you be what you ain’t, you ain’t what you is.” If Mark was anything, he was his authentic self, so these words reflect his wish for everyone—to be yourself, above all. Another perennial favorite in the classroom, from a piece titled Attitude, came the weighty reminder, “Attitude is more important than facts.”

And while Mark implored his students to be authentic and to “step up”, he also offered wisdom in reaching goals. As one of the most quoted pieces of his advice, we are reminded of the brevity of life when making decisions and how to move forward with good choices. Tilton shared, “The reason most people fail instead of succeed is because they trade what they want most for what they want at the moment. Remember what you want most.”

As his friend and colleague Harrison Golden shared at Mark’s Athletic Hall of Fame induction in 2010, “wins and championships are a small measure of Mark Tilton’s stature because he is prouder of the successes his players have in the classroom and in life. Players, whether they went on to play at Syracuse, Indiana, or Merrimack College, frequently return to visit a coach who was more concerned with them being good people than skilled athletes.”


An Inspiring Role Model

After 43 years serving as an educator, Mark completed his New Hampton School tenure in 2007, retiring to his log cabin in Gorham, New Hampshire, with his wife, Sandy. He continued to engage with our community with frequent campus visits, support of the alumni office, as a long-standing committee member of the Athletic Hall of Fame, and as a sideline and courtside supporter of the games he loved so much. He was always available to talk, offer advice, and catch up on old times.

And yet, he still found time to volunteer in organizations he was passionate about. Mark helped coach the C.H.A.D. All-Star Football team, and was a volunteer coach at the Lawrence (Massachusetts) Boys Club ABA Camp for 30 years. He was honored for his lifetime of efforts in the New Hampton Athletic Hall of Fame (in the coach category in 2010, team category in 2018), the Lawrence Boys Club Hall of Fame, the NHIAA Coaches Hall of Fame, and with the New Hampshire Union Leader’s Walter A. Smith Coaches Award in 2016.

“Mark Tilton was one of those rare individuals whose warmth and compassion enabled him to touch the lives of all who were fortunate to spend time with him,” Head of School Joe Williams reflects. “He had the appearance of a fierce competitor, which he was, but a heart of gold, and that is what mattered most. Mark’s legacy will live on at New Hampton, serving as a model for others to aspire to.”

Remembering his legacy

Mark is survived by his wife Sandra (Milburn) Tilton of Gorham, NH; four children: Jennifer McMahon & husband James of New Hampton, NH, Jon Tilton and wife Tami of Groveland, MA, Paul Tilton and wife Susan of West Barnstable, MA, and Jay Tilton and wife Darcy of Exeter, NH; he was “Poppy” to nine grandchildren: Liam, Kay, Owen, and T.J. McMahon, Molly, Zeb, Emma, Zack, and Cameron Tilton. Other survivors include his sister Joan Azulay of Austin, TX, and several nephews. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones, and all of those touched by his life.

Services will be private. A Celebration of Life, open to the public, will be announced at a later date. Please visit the official announcement from the family online, and join us in keeping Mark’s family and friends in your thoughts in the days ahead. You may share memories on, as well as view photos and more in remembrance of Mark Tilton.

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  1. Image for David Greer
    David Greer

    I will forever be grateful for the impact you had on my life and countless others. Rest easy Coach!

  2. Image for Chad Dyjak
    Chad Dyjak

    What a great loss to the community and to everyone that was fortunate enough to be coached by him or had a class of his, or got to sit down and ask for advise from him. He was one of those rare human beings that impacted so many peoples lives is such a positive way. He will be greatly missed. Chad Dyjak Class of 91

  3. Image for Andrew F. Martz
    Andrew F. Martz

    Mr Tilton was an excellent teacher, listener, thinker, and friend. I deeply admired him as a human being, and appreciate the very positive impact he had on my education and life, including his contribution to me in writing a recommendation in support of my college admission. His sociology class positively altered how I see and understand the world. Thank you Mr. Tilton.

  4. Image for Shaka Serville
    Shaka Serville

    I wish to offer my heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Tilton and the entire Tilton Family and New Hampton School Family, which indeed are practically one and the same. What sad news for us all to learn of the passing of our dear Coach Tilton. I attended New Hampton as a postgraduate student-athlete in the 1991-1992 academic year. Leading up to my eventual arrival at New Hampton School, from Nassau, The Bahamas, Coach Tilton was absolutely incredible at assuring my parents, and me, that I would be cared for, nurtured, and safe. At that time my parents, and I, of course had all of the expected concerns that came along with the idea of my moving so far away from home in The Bahamas for the first time. Suffice it to say Coach Tilton's assurances were not mere words. During my year long stay at New Hampton, Coach Tilton was a coach, teacher, mentor, parent figure, and protector to me. During that academic year Coach Tilton was my Psychology professor. His class, without hesitation, I would say was one of my favorites, not only because of the subject matter, but primarily because of what Coach Tilton brought to the class with his wealth of knowledge, warm and sincere personality, and endearing and effective teaching style. I also played point guard on the Huskies Varsity Basketball team that year. So, I spent a great deal of time in the company of Coach Tilton, in the classroom, on the practice and game courts, and on the many road trips to and from game competition. Coach Tilton also was always available to share his time, ear, and word with me at informal times, when I would seek him out for same, or when he would seek me out whenever he had a hunch that I may have needed him, often, if not always, far sooner than I knew or admitted that I did. Coach Tilton was an absolute force of nature in the manner in which he selflessly, tirelessly, sincerely, and passionately shared every ounce of himself for the benefit of those in his charge, and also of those in the communities of which he was a part. He epitomized the notion that family and community are one and the same. What a fantastic, larger than life human being!!! I love you Coach Tilton and will forever love you!....I also take this opportunity to say thank you Coach Tilton, for everything that you gave to me, you will live on in my, and my family's, hearts, minds, and souls forevermore. I also thank Mrs. Tilton and the entire Tilton Family for sharing Coach Tilton with me. May he rest in eternal peace. Shaka Serville Class of 1992

  5. Image for Andrew Menke
    Andrew Menke

    One of the most dedicated and impactful educators with whom I had the good fortune to work. Mark truly changed lives! He remains an inspiration to me and so many others. Andrew Menke NHS Head of School, 2005-2016

  6. Image for Sheila Casey
    Sheila Casey

    Mr. Tilton was my sociology and Psychology teacher at Berlin High School in 1970. He also coached the basketball team. His discernment, integrity and wisdom always lace with humorous encouragement were attributes this humbled lady has embraced and mimicked through her lifetime. May happy memories console all who loved him through the grieving process. Blessings. Sheila Barron Casey BHS72

  7. Image for Charlie Burch
    Charlie Burch

    Coach Tilton had a great career at NHS. He and my dad knew each other when my dad was @ Exeter HS and Mark was @ Berlin HS and both were NH HS football coaches in the 1960's. My dad preceeded Mark @ NHS (1969-1974) where he was head football , asst. lacrosse coach and Athletic Director. A connecting piece was that Harrison Golden was one of my Dad's assistant football coaches @ NHS and obviously worked with Mark for many years.

  8. Image for Doug MacKinnon
    Doug MacKinnon

    I met Mark, then "Coach Tilton", when I was 17. He was one of the "line" coaches of the 1967 NH Shrine team. He was dark haired then, and I had hair. He was to my young sensibilities gruff, tough, and demanding. I have thought since ... how does one inspire "leg drive", the short churning and required relentless motion applied to move a weight sometimes greater than one's own without a vocal cadence that matches the movement. Someone might make poetry of this, but it won't be lyric poetry incorporating legato extensions and open-ended vowels...."Bon giorno, mio cara...." may have a place in some sport unknown to me, but it surely will not be in training for play "in the trenches". I think Mark would get a kick out this silliness on my part. When I came to New Hampton and heard his name mentioned as part of the faculty, I took an internal gasp of breath. I remembered the gruff line coach, but thought sure there was nothing positive I'd presented such that he'd remember me. But, I was wrong. He introduced himself shyly...almost apologetically, though there was nothing in my mind to apologize for even had he said, "I don't really remember you", noting how 33 years later we'd ended in the same place....aware of many more things and now "equals"-to-be on the same faculty....odd how lives spun and intertwined. I thought, but didn't voice, "Coach Tilton musing about karma, or kismet, or Fate....What?" So much for prejudice...mine. I discovered to my equal amazement and delight, that Coach Tilton was to borrow the cliche, " a life-long learner" ie he read and read a lot. One of my pet peeves through the years of teaching had been the general lack of interest or wonder on the part of too many teachers I'd known. Reading had ceased to be part of their lives when they obtained their last required-of-them degree. But here was a "fellow traveler" as was Harry Golden, and so we "elder" faculty, would hold our own court of mutual uplift often after the "dress dinners", and sort out just what needed be sorted locally, nationally, or on the world scene. As balm to our powerlessness, we'd oft retreat to humor....satire or mimicry of those who we were assuring ourselves may have fooled many, but not we three "wise men",( gifts not required.) There are many scenes embedded in my mind, but two I'll use to illustrate. There was a brief attempt to "re-market" NHS. A firm sent reps to "hear us" and rebrand us in a some form of sweeping ad campaign. The campaign was going to use stick figured icons with pithy catch phrases: "shelter", "community", "family" etc. It may have been the stick figures that set us off, but we had a trash session with that whole deal, such that Mark was weeping with laughter, no metaphor, tears rolling down his cheeks and Harry was gasping for breath rapping his knuckles on one of the dining room tables...and I guess it had been my turn to carry the ball on what we'd mutually asserted, so I got to watch them "undone" by our collective wit. Example two is Mark in more a solo role. Exeter Academy was in NHS gym playing New Hampton boy's basketball team. Mark and Harry were in the stands and I crawled up behind them. I knew that Mark's son Jay was Exeter's basketball coach, and obviously the handsome dark-haired youthful coach on the opposite side of the gym was Jay. But, his assistant coach was a bit older and was fully fully as was Mark gray-haired. So, emblematic of the "wise men's" interplay, I leaned between Mark and Harry (so that Harry could enjoy this too) and said, "Mark, which one is your son?" Then leaned back delighted with my own wit....then noticed rising from Mark's left shoulder the local, national, and international single digit of "put down"....and laughed out loud and too myself for quite a long time...."long time" to include this moment as I type this. And it came to me, and I don't know why I recall this, but I just checked and I recalled correctly, a lyric from Marvin Hamlisch...."So it's the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were"....This is out of context, but I'd like to think "Coach" would appreciate the intent. He was a good man....and my years at NHS were better for his having been there and "friending" me.

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