Lillard went on to earn a political-science degree in 1979 from Millsaps College, but her love of gardening never left her even as she started her career in human resources. She remained in Jackson and, after retiring, decided she had the time to pursue her lifelong interest. She began volunteering 11 years ago to share her knowledge with her neighbors.
“I love the outdoors, wildlife, and plants—anything to do with the outdoors,” Lillard says. “Gardening helps me feel like I can give back to the community.”
She started her volunteer work with the Metro Master Gardeners, for whom she helps run the group’s annual plant sale. The planning starts six months prior to the event when Lillard and her fellow master gardeners begin to propagate plants to later sell.
“I feel like it’s a way to give back and beautify the neighborhoods in Jackson,” Lillard says. “It just makes me feel good to be able to do that.”
Beyond gardening, Lillard’s volunteer work extends further into nature through her volunteer work with another group, the Mississippi Master Naturalists, with whom she has spent the last three years studying the patterns of wildlife captured on trail cameras in collaboration with the Lincoln Zoo in Chicago.
After Lillard analyzes the film, she passes the information along to the zoo to be part of national data about the impact of humans on wildlife.
“This is important to me because, as a lifelong environmentalist, I want to do whatever I can to ensure that the earth continues to be healthy,” Lillard says.
“On a neighborhood level, I want to do what I can to beautify the neighborhood and experience nature.”
Lillard hopes that her work will help her community become more environmentally cautious, tend their yards, and develop a stronger interest in planting flowers and trees.
“It helps all of us,” Lillard says. “It helps the quality of the air we breathe, and it helps the way the neighborhoods look.”