Each evening after their devotional time, Gilliland entertained his daughter with stories about his life. She asked him to consider writing them down for future generations.
“She begged me for a year or two to write a book, and I kept putting it off,” Gilliland said.
Soon after Gilliland agreed to begin jotting down his memories, Sylvia was killed in a car accident while on her way to see her father.
Gilliland, who had lost his wife less than two years earlier to Alzheimer’s disease, was devastated.
Just as he had during numerous other trials in his life, Gilliland turned to his faith to help him overcome his grief and keep his promise to Sylvia.
“God has always come to my rescue, no matter what,” he said.
Gilliland began saving his stories on tape and then turned them over to a niece, Cindy Hagood, to be typed. Her son Jeremy put the finishing touches on the manuscript.
Hagood also provided the name for the book, “Man of Character.” The title came from a speech he gave about his uncle in July 2009 just days after Sylvia’s death.
Gilliland dedicated his autobiography, which was printed earlier this year, to his daughter.
“Man of Character” is a collection of dozens of short stories from Gilliland’s 93 years of life.
Some of the more significant events include his service in World War II, several decades spent as an insurance salesman and more than 57 years as a Sunday School teacher.
Gilliland also describes his fight with lip cancer when he was 33.
Doctors initially said that his vocal chords and voice box would have to be removed. Gilliland, concerned that he would not be able to make a living without his voice, prayed that he would either be healed or die during the surgery.
Although the surgery left his face forever scarred, Gilliland did not lose his voice.
Gilliland initially printed 75 copies of the book.
They sold out in the first two weeks.
He has now sold more than 200 books in 10 states.
However, Gilliland said he was seeking neither fortune nor fame by becoming an author in his 90s.
“I tried to write a book that would encourage people, especially ones who were young, backslid or thinking about whether to give their heart to God or not. I hope it will help them,” he said.