Meet a Retriever—Mary K. Tilghman ’79, novelist and donor

Published: Jul 2, 2024

Mary K. Tilghman and True Grit with her books in the statue's mouth.
Mary K. Tilghman posing with True Grit. Several of her books are in the statue's mouth.
Meet Mary K. Tilghman, whose original decision to attend UMBC may have started off more pragmatic than fairytale (she could commute with her brother who was attending), but the story ended up having a happy ending. Tilghman ’79, English, is a novelistthe author of half a dozen modern romance and historical novelsfinding inspiration in her native Maryland, as well as drawing on her bachelor’s degree from 45-plus years ago. Tilghman says that the classes at UMBC laid the foundation for a prolific and fulfilling writing career. Tell us your story, Mary!

Q: What’s one essential thing you’d want another Retriever to know about you? 

A: Since graduation, I have used my English degree every day of my life. I’ve been a reporter and editor of local newspapers, a freelance magazine writer, a travel writer, and travel blogger. I’ve written six novels, both historical fiction and sweet-as-cotton-candy romance. I’ve edited dozens of school papers for my three now-grown children—Gina who earned her master’s degree at UMBC, Sean and Brigid. I tell everyone: That English degree paved the way for my life.

Q: Tell us about someone in the community who has inspired you or supported you, and how they did it.

A: My English professors, including Professors Robert Glick, Patricia Meszaros and Joan Korenman, taught me to think and write precisely. My favorite political science professor, Dr. Philip Brenner, showed me how to gain perspective from history. My friend and fellow Retriever editor Kathleen Warnock offered me a job writing Frommer’s guides for Maryland and Delaware that I will always be grateful for.

Q: Tell us about what you love about your academic program or an organization you’re involved in.

A: It’s been 45 years since I got my bachelor’s degree but I still remember the books I read—19th-century novels, Russian epics, world literature. They laid the foundation for my writing. I may never reach the writing level of a Tolstoy, Dickens, or Hemingway but, like them, I love language and a well-wrought sentence.

Right: Tilghman’s husband, Raymond Truitt, graduated from Loyola the same year as Tilghman at UMBC. “Ray and I met by blind date when we were juniors. He proposed to me on UMBC’s (now-gone) tennis courts in 1981,” shares Tilghman.

A man and woman stand together, the man is in a graduation gown

Q: If you’re currently working, what’s your title and where do you work? What do you enjoy most about it?

A: I write novels, both historical fiction and romance. I love creating characters, wrecking their lives, and then finding them a happy ending. Best of all, I get to share it with readers.

a sepia toned photo of a woman with brown hair and a turtle neck

Q: Tell us about your primary WHY, and how it led you to UMBC.

A: I was a student at another college before coming to UMBC. When my younger brother was accepted to UMBC, my mother suggested I transfer. UMBC was a cost-effective option in 1976, had good English and visual arts departments, and the family car was already coming here. So I became a Retriever. Though I wasn’t happy at first, I was soon hooked. I met great people, was taking classes I couldn’t wait to master, and found professors who were caring and devoted. I learned quickly I was going to get the education that would lead to something great.

Left: Tilghman in her senior photo at UMBC.

Q: Tell us about the people who helped you grow at UMBC, and why their HOW made such a difference to you.

A: I took a journalism class my first semester with Baltimore Sun reporter Jack Dawson. I’ll always be grateful for his classes, his mentoring, and his help in getting a Sun internship. I ultimately had two internships, one on the copy desk of the Sun, and another at the Catonsville Times, where my editor, Loni Ingraham, spent a lot of time helping me learn to write a lede and ask better questions. In addition, I worked long hours on the staff of the university’s newspaper, The Retriever. I learned all about writing, interviewing, editing, setting type (this was pre-digital), writing headlines, and laying out pages. And I gained some great friends among my fellow journalists.

Q: If you’re an alum, what’s your favorite part of being a part of Retriever Nation?

A: UMBC grads go places. I’ve met them in all walks of life but the UMBC tie is strong.

two women hold up shirts commemorating UMBC's mens basketball win over UVA in 2018
Tilghman, left, attended a pep rally with fellow alumna, Jackie Toback Polashuk, after UMBC’s men’s basketball team beat No. 1 seed UVA in the NCAA championships in 2018.

Q: If you’re a donor, what drives you to support UMBC?

A: I won a scholarship in my senior year that allowed me to become a dorm resident. What an experience that was after all that commuting. I want to support future Retrievers.

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UMBC’s greatest strength is its people. When people meet Retrievers and hear about the passion they bring, the relationships they create, the ways they support each other, and the commitment they have to inclusive excellence, they truly get a sense of our community. That’s what “Meet a Retriever” is all about.

Learn more about how UMBC can help you achieve your goals.

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