Thomas Candler Gilliland

January 20, 1948March 31, 2013

Mr. Thomas Candler Gilliland, age 65, formerly of Blairsville, Ga., passed away Sunday, March 31, 2013, at Athens Regional Medical Center.

Mr. Gilliland was born January 22, 1948, in Atlanta, to the late Sarah Candler Gilliland and Jason Brown Gilliland. He graduated from the Westminster Schools in 1966, and thereafter attended the University of Georgia, where he graduated with honors, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in History in 1970. At UGA, he served as President of the Honors Program student body, was a member of Chi Phi fraternity, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and was a Rhodes Scholarship nominee. Mr. Gilliland then attended Emory University School of Law, earning his J.D. in 1973. As a lawyer, he would continue a family tradition of service to Georgia extending back to the colonial era.

Mr. Gilliland practiced law in Atlanta for twenty years. Consistent with the streak of independence that would typify his career, he left a major firm to co-found Howard & Gilliland in 1976. He later became a Partner at Hurt, Richardson, Garner, Todd and Cadenhead. In 1980 he co-authored Fifth Circuit Truth-in-Lending: Consumer Loans Secured by Real Property, published by Harrison Publishing Company. He married Mary Candace Wansley in 1982 and spent the remainder of his life with her at his side.

Mr. Gilliland was closely involved in public affairs throughout his life, serving as Chief of Staff to Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard and as a close advisor to countless officials. He helped to shape and enact important legislation, including Georgia’s first ethics bill and a measure to establish much-needed medical clinics in remote sections of rural Georgia. As the HOPE Scholarship neared passage, he helped shape the language of amendments to Georgia’s constitution to ensure that state legislators could never raid lottery funds. He was a thought leader on legislative issues pertaining to the banking industry, from the Sarbaines-Oxley Act to Dodd-Frank.

Throughout his life, Mr. Gilliland was drawn to the north Georgia mountains, home of his grandfather, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Thomas S. Candler, who was among Mr. Gilliland’s strongest role models. In 1986 he assembled a group of investors to launch People’s Bank in Blue Ridge. He repeated the pattern at other locations, eventually merging the group of banks with Union County Bank, creating United Community Banks. He and his family moved to the mountains full-time in 1994, where Mr. Gilliland served as President of the bank in Blue Ridge, Chairman of the Board of United Community Bank North Georgia, and eventually as Executive Vice President, Secretary, and General Counsel of United Community Banks, Inc. In that capacity, Mr. Gilliland helped steward the bank’s growth as it expanded to become the third-largest bank holding company in Georgia. He retired in 2008.

Mr. Gilliland served his community throughout his life, including tenures on the boards of the Honors Program of the University of Georgia, Atlanta Hospital’s Hospitality House, the Georgia Affordable Housing Corporation, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Truett-McConnell College, Young Harris College, and numerous civic associations in Fannin County. He served as the President of the Callanwolde Foundation in Atlanta, as Chairman of Fannin County’s Civic Center Committee, and as Chairman of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s Transition Committee. He was appointed by Gov. Roy Barnes to serve on Georgia’s Y2K Task Force as well as the Stone Mountain Authority. Gov. Sonny Perdue reappointed Mr. Gilliland as Chairman of the Stone Mountain Authority in 2005. In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed Mr. Gilliland to a four-year term on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment in 2008, making him the first Georgian ever to serve on the TVA’s board.

Among his many pastimes, Mr. Gilliland was a lifelong outdoorsman. Many of his most cherished memories were of adventures in the field, especially those with his two sons. He achieved a lifelong goal by earning his pilot’s license in 2005, and for years would rise early to fly around his home in the mountains. He was blessed with a deeply loving wife with whom he raised two sons and countless dogs, and built a great life. He was a member of the Gridiron Secret Society, the Capital City Club in Atlanta, and the Athens Country Club.

Mr. Gilliland’s life was shorter than most, but he filled his years with a richness of life few are privileged to claim. He was an uncommon man, with energies too abundant to confine to any one sphere. For his charisma, wit, and fun-loving nature he accumulated friends wherever he went; for his faithfulness, he kept them. He was as comfortable appearing before the U.S. Senate as he was walking into a country store in the mountains. His intellectual curiosity and profound memory struck all who had the privilege of knowing him—he was equally at ease discussing great literature, politics, or tractors, whether around a campfire or a dinner table. His friends were as diverse as his interests: he befriended artists, poets, farmers and ranchers just as readily as senators and CEOs. He gave more to his friends and loved ones than he asked or expected of them, and for more than a few men he was like a second father. He will be remembered for his great intellect, his quick wit, for tirelessly giving more of himself than he received, for quietly helping anyone in need, for rising early and taking risks, for his tolerance and compassion, and most of all for being a devoted and loving husband, father, and friend.

He is survived by his beloved wife, Candy, his two sons, Thomas Candler Gilliland Jr. and Jason Wansley Gilliland, his aunt Blanche Candler and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews and in-laws.

Memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at Athens First United Methodist Church with Rev. Chuck Hodges and Rev Martha Aenchbacher officiating, followed by a reception at the church.

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that contributions be made to the Athens First United Methodist Church, 327 North Lumpkin St., Athens, Ga. 30601, or to The University of Georgia Honors Program, c/o UGA Foundation, Milledge Centre, Suite 100, 394 S Milledge Ave, Athens, GA 30602.

Online condolences may be offered at

Bernstein Funeral Home and Cremation Service is in charge of arrangements.


  • Memorial Service Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thomas Candler Gilliland

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June 27, 2013

Candy, We were shocked and saddened by Tom's passing. Even though we have not seen each other a lot in recent years, you and Tom remain in our fondest memories. Please keep in touch. Carole and Mike Farrell.

Heather Griffin Rhodes

May 15, 2013

My mom (Vicky Griffin) and I are keeping you all in our thoughts and prayers. Tom was a wonderful friend to our family for so many years.

May 14, 2013

Candy, I was so saddened to hear of Tom's passing. These things are difficult to absorb. Anytime you would like to meet for lunch or coffee around Blue Ridge, just give me a call. We had lunch several years ago in Blue Ridge, as I had known Tom through my work at the Banking Dept. Fondly, Leslie Bechtel

Ken Shigley

April 16, 2013

A Renaissance Man gone too soon. I am so sorry for your loss.

George Butler

April 12, 2013


After moving my practice to North Georgia a decade ago, my path first crossed with Tom's over the phone. I was instantly put at ease and felt an immediate kinship. What fun we had chasing rabbits and realizing that you were the Ms. Wansley I had taught at Emory. What a special team you two must have made! My deepest condolences.

Hank Fellows

April 6, 2013


Pam and I were very sorry to learn of Tom's passing. He was a mentor to me and many other attorneys in Atlanta and north Georgia. Please know that you and your sons are in our prayers.

John Thomas

April 5, 2013

Deepest condolences to the family, but knowing that the friends he left behind are forever blessed for knowing him. John Thomas, Ellijay, a friend.

Rodney & Louise Nix

April 5, 2013

Candy and Boys,

I am so sorry for your lost. Tom was always a gentlemen and very kind to me.
the service was lovely, please know you are in our prayers and thoughts

Pierre Howard

April 5, 2013

We shall never see his like again. "Good night Sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."
Pierre, Nancy, Caroline and Christopher Howard

April 4, 2013

I am sorry for your lose. John 11: 25,26 gives us hope that one day we would see our loved ones again.