Leoma Gilley was born and raised in Chattanooga, TN, as an only child. Her father was a gifted storyteller, and she inherited that gift and continues to develop it. She obtained her BS in speech and language pathology from the University of Tennessee and worked for several years as a speech therapist. She then studied for her MA in the same field and worked in a speech and hearing clinic in Macon, GA. In 1988, she earned a PhD in Linguistics from the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies.
Linguistics fascinated Leoma, and in 1979 she felt called to join Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International. This affiliation led her to more adventure than she had expected and she lived most of her adult life in Africa, about twenty years of that in the Sudan. She has traveled widely and enjoyed discovering the languages and cultures of the places she visited. After thirty-seven years, she retired and settled in Knoxville, TN.