Tracey Nadeau & Jill Shillman

Besties for a Half-Century

by Michele Roldán-Shaw TracyandJill 1121
Photography by Cassidy Dunn

After fifty years of friendship, there is nothing these two don’t know about each other’s lives. Any breaking developments are reported immediately, without the need for backstory, and they can read each other’s reactions like a large-print book. Although they don’t have specific memories of their first meeting in kindergarten, they can definitely say one thing: she was there.

“I couldn’t tell you about most of my life,” Tracey jokes. “But Jill could. Any time I can’t remember if I may or may not have done something, I ask her.”

The two were in Brownies (junior Girl Scouts) together, and after going through school in their hometown of Cumberland, Maryland, they managed to keep in touch despite moves, marriages and careers. When Tracey’s brother lived on Hilton Head they used to come visit him, then in 1994 Jill moved to Bluffton and Tracey followed six years later. Now they live just a few miles apart. During a typical week, they often get together for Sunday dinners, happy hours, or to watch the Sopranos with their husbands; but if things are busy, they might just connect by phone or text. Ebb and flow in the relationship is normal, comfortable even, because they have the longevity to prove that neither years nor distance can separate them.
“You pick up where you left off,” says Jill. “You don’t need a lot of friends if you have a few good ones who are like family.”

“She’s a constant,” Tracey agrees. “There have been plenty of people in my life who have come and gone. But Jill is always going to be there. It’s like having a family member you actually like.”

The two complement each other in an “opposites attract” sort of way. So much so that they both married people with personalities similar to their best friend’s! Tracey is a lot like Jill’s husband—they both love Christmas decorations and shopping—while Jill and Tracey’s husband are both laidback minimalists. Tracey is blunt and talkative; Jill is the quiet observer. But certain common denominators form the bedrock of their friendship: trust, respect, sense of humor, shared moral values, and patience with each other’s “moments.” Most of all, it’s about just being there.

“If you want to keep a good relationship with a friend,” says Tracey, “I don’t think there’s work involved. But I do think there’s thoughtfulness that goes into it, being mindful of where that person is and how they might be feeling on that day.”

There was a traumatic time when Jill’s mom was passing away in Maryland during the same week Jill was getting married in Palmetto Bluff. Tracey’s presence was instrumental in getting her through. “She has a very caring and sensitive heart,” Jill says. “She was really there for me—the type of friend who feels something the same way you do.”

Looking ahead into their own later years, they anticipate being there to “prop each other up.” (They’ve also vowed to drink boxed wine and let the other one live in a trailer in the front yard if it comes to that!) “When you have someone in your life like that,” Tracey says, “it’s important to keep them close.”

Up Close:

Tracey is a health insurance broker; Jill founded a full-service marketing agency

drinking cocktails at outside venues and enjoying wonderful meals

Things they share:
recipes, shopping deals of the day, laughs, vacations and each other’s homes

Where their husbands fit in:
“A lot of times we involve our husbands, then find ourselves asking why we brought them.”

Seriously though:
the two couples have a friendship in their own right, with a brother-sister bond between the opposing spouses.

The only barrier:
Jill has a beautiful grand piano in her house and she took lessons for years, but for some strange reason Tracey has never heard her play!