Nancy Tillman#039;s love of reading led to a fairy tale career

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 3, 2004

Call it a walk down memory lane. Call it a tribute to the past. Or just call it sentimental nostalgia. No matter what you call it, the Once Upon a Card greeting cards are transporting people to another time and another place.

The upstart card company is renewing people's sense of wonder and worth, tickling them with good natured ribbing and making their days just a little bit better.

Just barely out of its infant stage, the Once Upon a Card line is already in 38 states ad Canada and is being looked at by card representatives in New Zealand and England.

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The card company is the brainchild of Nancy Tillman, the daughter of Susie Hastey of Brundidge.

Some people in Tillman's shoes would have to pinch themselves to make sure they weren't dreaming. Success of the company has been swift and the future looks bright. But, Tillman started the company with the confidence that the product she had to market had a place in today's world.

"I've never been negative," she said. "I've always felt like I could do anything I set my mind to, so I decided to fly with the idea of a special line of greeting cards."

Once Upon a Time offers a line of cards for all occasions. Its playful photography invites people into a world of whimsy, romance and sophistication.

"So many of the cards available today are rather crude," Tillman said. "Some of them are right on the edge. I wanted to create a line of cards that you could give to your grandmother."

Tillman described her cards as kinder and gentler than most and designed for an intelligent and sophisticated clientele.

"When I was growing up my mother read to me a lot," she said. "I especially enjoyed hearing fairy tales. Many of the card designs are based on childhood - the ups and downs of growing up."

The line includes birthday, everyday, thank you,

romantic, encouragement, congratulations, friendship, anniversary and new baby cards

Tillman said her inspiration comes from memories and from life situations.

"Tributes to the past and commentaries on today," she said.

And, with a look toward the future - her future.

Tillman entered the work world with an advertising agency in Dallas, Tex. After a decade in the print media, she decided she'd had enough.

"I had two children and I wanted to be mama to them," she said. "I was fortune that my husband had a job that would allow me to stay home. That's where I wanted to be and felt like I needed to be."

With her son, Tucker, starting college and her daughter, Tess, content without mama at her heels, a year ago, Tillman began to look for a creative outlet that would also put a little jingle in her pockets.

"The idea of line of greeting cards seemed to be ideal for me," she said. "It would give me something to do that I enjoy but also allow me the freedom to be participate in Tess' school activities."

Tillman began to explore ways and means to began a cottage business to produce greeting cards that would be marketed - in fairy tale fashion - as Once Upon a Card.

"She looked two ways, first to the bank for financing and then to the Internet as a marketing tool.

"I went to the bank and established a line of credit," she said. "The plan was that, for the first years, I would put whatever I made back into the business."

With the startup cost in the bank, Tillman took care of other business arrangements that had to be made - finding the best print deal, representatives to market her cards and creating the designs and writing the wording for the cards.

She was on the way and "it felt good to step out and try."

Today, Tillman feels even better. Her company, Paddington Press, is attracting interest at home and abroad. There are 73 cards in the line and each seems to have a following of its own.

"The most popular is the 'On the night you were born,'" she said. "It's a sentimental favorite. The bullfighter is one of the most 'on the edge' cards and it's very popular."

For lovers, there's the card that reads: Sometimes life gives you a fairytale.

Thank you for happily ever after.

A birthday fun card reads: It's your birthday. Get over it. An everyday message reads: Imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen. Then count your blessings and have a cup of tea.

Tillman writes the wording for the cards. She purchases the rights to many of the photographs and manipulates them to fit her prose.

She finds great pleasure in both.

"I have plans for a children's book based on the 'The night you were born,'" she said. "I am excited about that possibility but right now I'm concentrating on the greeting cards."

Tillman's hope is to get her line of greeting cards in England.

"I love everything British," she said. "My cat, Paddington (as in Paddington Station) is the namesake for my publishing company."

Paddington is also a supporter in Tillman's business endeavor. When she writes, he is by her side. When she creates the designs for the cards, he is by her side.

"He's bad to the bone," Tillman said laughing. "I adore him and he loves me and hates everybody else."

Together, Tillman and Paddington are on an adventure together. She has created a card that sums up their experience: One never knows when extraordinary opportunities may present themselves. Believe in wonder.

Tillman believes in wonder and she also believes in fairytales and happy endings - and happy beginnings, especially those that begin "Once upon a Card."

Editor's Note: Nancy Tillman now resides in Portland, Ore.

with her husband, Rick,

and children. She is the niece of Tommy and Elva Strother of Troy and Mayretta Strother of Brundidge.

Cards can be purchased in Brundidge at Jackson Hardware, in Troy at Fraley's Frame Outlet and at other locations around the state.