Harley-Davidson Store Owner Survives & Thrives After Accident
With the help of family, community, a strong will, and her enduring love of Harleys, woman builds a new and inspiring life following tragedy.
Robinette Tilley isn’t your typical mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. You’re more likely to find her selling Fat Boys than doing needlepoint. At 76 years old she still runs the family business, Tilley Harley-Davidson Motorcycles a successful dealership that has been a staple of the Statesville, NC community since 1972. Her daughter, Donna Tilley, told the Statesville Record & Landmark, “She still goes in and makes decisions…She has to talk to every department. She’s still the boss and that’s just it in a nutshell. And she’ll be the boss for as long as she’s here.” Yes, Robinette Tilley is a badass.
And one of the hallmarks of being a woman like Robinette Tilley is never giving up. To say she is tough and determined is an understatement. Nothing could stop her love of Harley-Davidson, not even an accident.
Of course, when you are married to Don Tilley as Robinette was, motorcycles are an important and vital part of life. Don was a motorcycle and stock car racer since the late 1950s. During his career he ran several races on the Grand National Circuit, including two at Daytona. In the 1960’s Don worked with Richard Petty. Don and Robinette opened their dealership in 1972, but always remained active in racing and racing sponsorship. Don was very successful in building race bikes and made quite a name for himself and for Tilley H-D.
In 2014, the Tilleys were riding on one of their Harleys when an accident occurred. Don passed away in the crash, and Robinette was critically injured. She had a shattered right arm, broken neck, broken pelvis, and damage to her spinal cord. Over the next six months she went from hospital to hospital for treatments; enduring procedure after procedure. Doctors told the family that Tilley would probably never return home. But Tilley had other plans.
“I had a family to come home to,” says Tilley.
‘She kept fighting and kept fighting and kept fighting, and she had the will to live, so she’s tough. I don’t know that I could have done it. She’s the bomb.’
Tilley began to improve. She was paralyzed, but she and her family worked hard to make the transition to a wheelchair an easier one. Tilley’s previously injured vocal cords were injected with collagen, which helped with speaking, eating, and drinking.
“I was certainly glad when I was able to actually drink,” Tilley says. She definitely didn’t lose her sense of humor.
Finally she returned home. And she never stopped fighting, and she never gave up hope. Her daughter Donna said, “Mom’s spirit has stayed up the whole time, pretty much.” Tilley’s family made sure that she was allowed to live her life on her terms, and so everyone got involved in her treatment and recovery. It was hard for Tilley to take things at the pace her doctors wanted, and not her own pace, however. “I felt like I could do anything I wanted to, so I had to wait through that,” says Tilley. “But I felt like I would get better each day.” And with her family’s help, physical therapy, and a lot of determination, she did.
Her daughter Denise Tilley LeVan said, “She kept fighting and kept fighting and kept fighting, and she had the will to live, so she’s tough. I don’t know that I could have done it. She’s the bomb.”
The outreach from her hometown as well as the motorcycle and racing community has also been a tremendous source of strength for the family. The support of the community has helped the family stay positive during those especially dark times.
Former NASCAR President Mike Helton organized a fundraising motorcycle ride for the Tilleys called “Ride for Robinette.” The event raised $11,000 which went towards hospital and healthcare bills.
“Everybody in the community has just rallied,” Donna Tilley said. “People still come in at the shop and say, ‘How’s your mom? Tell her we are still praying for her.'”
The Tilley-LeVan family still carries a great passion for Harley-Davidson; they work in the shop, and still ride their Harleys. The way they life their life demonstrates the triumph of hope over fear. “My daddy always said you can’t be afraid to live,” said LeVan. The shop has a poster up front that says ‘Why Wait When You Can Ride?’ and it is a message that this family takes to heart.
So now Robinette Tilley’s life is different than it was four years ago, but some things remain the same. She still loves motorcycles. She still runs the shop. And above all, she is still an incredible and inspiring badass.
Photos: Statesville Record & Landmark