With sadness and with profound
sympathy to Barbara, Robyn, William and Dayle, I write to let you know that my
distinguished and much-loved predecessor, Dr Thomas W. Gillespie died last
night, November 5, 2011, after a brief and sudden illness. He was 83.
In everything he did, Tom
Gillespie understood his life as a gift and as a calling. Tom Gillespie was born on July 18, 1928, in Los Angeles, California,
and grew up attending the Vermont Avenue Presbyterian Church in that city. From
1946–1947 he served in the US Marine Corps, where he was prompted by a chaplain
to consider a calling to become a minister. On July 31, 1953, he married
Barbara A. Lugenbill, who came to Princeton with him for his senior year in
seminary. In 1954, Tom graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and
returned to California, where he was ordained by the Presbytery of Los Angeles
and was called to plant a new church at Garden Grove. He served with
distinction and energy there from 1954–1966, and Tom and Barbara’s children,
Robyn, William, and Dayle, were born during the Garden Grove years.
1966 Tom was called to be pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in
Burlingame, near San Francisco, a position he held until 1983. Under his
leadership, 16 people from the congregation (8 men and 8 women) were called
into ministry. In 1971 Tom earned a Ph.D. in New Testament from Claremont
Graduate School. Then, in 1983 Thomas
Gillespie was called as Princeton Theological Seminary’s fifth president in
succession to Dr. James I. McCord. He was inaugurated in March 1984, an
occasion at which, by coincidence, Thomas F. Torrance was one of those invited
to give a lecture.
has been rightly said that the
story of his presidency is a story of building and development—of
relationships, of academic scholarship, of campus facilities, of a worshiping
community, of a worldwide network of ministry. During Tom’s tenure, Princeton
Seminary entered a new century, celebrated a growing and enriching diversity in
its students and faculty, mourned and ministered to a nation’s national tragedy
on 9/11, and contributed to theological scholarship worldwide and to the
mission of the international church. As the Seminary’s leader, Tom Gillespie
did not carry this responsibility alone. He had the valued support, prayers,
ideas, and thinking of a wide community of scholars, students, donors, and
alumni/ae, of his wife, Barbara, and his three children, and of the wider
church. He had staunch friends and colleagues and the remarkable Donna Kline as
his Assistant. Most important, he would constantly say that he had Jesus Christ
as his cornerstone, and he accomplished his work to the honor and glory of God.
Members of the faculty remember
him as one who steadfastly understood the seminary as being in service to the
church. Faculty members and colleagues from those days invariably begin their
assessment of Tom’s presidency by praising his excellence as a pastor. In times
of personal difficulty, his sympathetic understanding and pastoral care were
always extended helpfully, compassionately, and abundantly. All who were recipients
of that grace were grateful for his pastoral care and will remember him with
Tom Gillespie’s legacy at the Seminary
is multifaceted and deep. During his tenure, which overlapped with the longest
peace time expansion of the U.S. economy, Princeton enjoyed many years of
financial prosperity. With vision, Tom boldly undertook and completed the
renovation of many of our historic buildings, including a major restoration of
Miller Chapel. Several new buildings were built, including the Luce Library,
Scheide and Templeton Halls, and the Witherspoon Apartments. Erdman Hall was completely redesigned and
renovated to be a state-of-the-art continuing education center. A multi-story
parking structure was also completed.
Tom Gillespie was an innovator
at every level. In a bold step, he changed the location of the faculty meetings
from the Board Room in Speer Library (where the seating had been arranged by
rank) to the Main Lounge of the Mackay Campus Center (with uniform seating for
everyone regardless of rank). He greatly expanded the agenda of the general
faculty meetings and limited that of the faculty senate and council solely to
faculty appointments and promotions. He supported codifying the many customary
governance practises into a revised faculty manual. Perhaps most importantly, he increased the
size and diversity of the faculty.
Professor Geddes Hanson was the
only African American on the faculty when Tom Gillespie was appointed in 1983.
Two years later, in 1985, Peter Paris became the first African American
appointed to the faculty under his leadership, and the first occupant of the
Elmer G. Homrighausen Chair in Christian Social Ethics. Soon after, Tom Gillespie
supported the initiative to establish an official liaison between the Seminary
and the Afro-American Studies Program at Princeton University.
Tom Gillespie’s presidency Dr. Hanson was promoted to become the Charlotte W.
Newcombe Professor of Congregational Ministry. Dr. Brian Blount was appointed and promoted
with tenure through the ranks to full professor in New Testament, and
similarly, Dr. Cleophus LaRue joined the faculty and was promoted with tenure
to become the Francis Landey Patton Associate Professor of Homiletics. The
total number of African Americans on the faculty increased from one to four
during Tom Gillespie’s administration.
Under Tom Gillespie’s
leadership the Asian presence on the faculty was expanded and strengthened.
Professor Sang Hyun Lee, the first Asian faculty member (appointed to the
faculty under former president James I. McCord) was tenured and promoted
through the ranks to become the first occupant of the Kyung-Chik Han Chair in
Systematic Theology. That chair, partly funded by the Young Nak Presbyterian
Church in Seoul, Korea, is the first chair at an American seminary to honor an
Asian church leader. In 1987, Dr. Choon-Leong Seow, now the Henry Snyder Gehman
Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature, joined the faculty as
assistant professor and was promoted through the ranks with tenure. In 2001, Dr
Eunny Patricia Lee, in Old Testament, became the first Korean woman to receive
a full-time appointment to this faculty.
In 2002, Professor Luis
Rivera-Pagán, a native of Puerto Rico, became the first Latino appointment to
the faculty as professor of ecumenics and mission, and under Tom Gillespie’s
leadership a significant partnership with Pew Charitable Trusts and Lilly
Endowment Inc. developed to provide a campus office for the Hispanic
Theological Initiative, a national initiative to support and train Ph.D.-level
Hispanic/Latino(a) scholars and teachers.
In 1991 the South African J.
Wentzel van Huyssteen joined the faculty as the first occupant of the James I.
McCord Chair in Theology and Science.
When Tom Gillespie arrived in
1983, Princeton’s faculty included only three women. Dr. Freda A. Gardner,
professor of Christian education emerita and director of the School of
Christian Education emerita, had joined her male colleagues in 1961. The first
woman tenured by the board after recommendation by the president and the
faculty, she was promoted to full professor during Tom Gillespie’s presidency.
Similarly, Dr. Katharine Doob Sakenfeld had joined the faculty in 1972 as assistant
professor in Old Testament literature and exegesis. In Tom Gillespie’s second
year as president, he appointed her to be the director of the Ph.D. Studies
Program, which her administration strengthened greatly.
The third woman on the faculty
at the time of Tom Gillespie’s arrival was Dr. Kathleen Elizabeth McVey who,
under his leadership, was promoted through the ranks to become the Joseph Ross
Stevenson Professor of Church History. One other woman scholar, Elizabeth
Gordon Edwards, taught generations of Princeton seminarians Greek and New
Testament exegesis as assistant professor of New Testament.
Though appointed by
then-president McCord as the first woman to join the faculty at the rank of
full professor and the first occupant of the Hazel Thompson McCord Chair in
Historical Theology, Dr. Jane Dempsey Douglass arrived at PTS in 1985.
Subsequently, she became president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches
and brought much distinction to the seminary.
Three women joined the faculty
during Tom Gillespie’s presidency at the rank of associate professor, being later
promoted to full professorships. Abigail Rian Evans was promoted to become the
Charlotte W. Newcombe Professor of Practical Theology and academic coordinator
of field education; Beverly Roberts Gaventa became the Helen H.P. Manson
Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis; and Dr. Elsie Anne McKee was
appointed as the Archibald Alexander Professor of Reformation Studies and the
History of Worship.
Dr. Ellen Charry, the then Margaret
W. Harmon Associate Professor of Systematic Theology; Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean, the
then associate professor of youth, church, and culture and director of the
Tennent School of Christian Education; Dr. Nancy Duff, associate professor of
theological ethics; Dr. Nancy Lammers Gross, the Arthur Sarell Rudd Associate
Professor of Speech Communication in Ministry; and Dr. Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger,
then an associate professor of pastoral theology were all appointed during Tom
Gillespie’s tenure as president. More
recently, Dr. Sally Ann Brown joined the faculty as an assistant professor of
preaching and worship and Dr. Jacqueline Lapsley as an assistant professor of
Old Testament. Both have subsequently been promoted. In sum, eleven women joined Princeton
Seminary’s faculty under Tom Gillespie’s presidency.
Tom Gillespie did more than
anyone to strengthen and benefit the faculty with the provision of regular
sabbaticals, funds for research, travel to academic and professional
conferences, and other types of institutional assistance, not the least of
which was provision for student research assistants.
In addition to his support for
the Center of Theological Inquiry, of which he long served as Chair of the
Board, he established the Karl Barth Center which is located in the Special
Collections Department of the Henry Luce III Library. Characteristically and
generously, Tom Gillespie has publicly supported the project for the new
was a great supporter of the Abraham Kuyper program. Around 1995, with Rimmer
de Vries, he started thinking about commemorating Kuyper’s lectures on
Calvinism held at PTS in 1898. He enthusiastically supported plans for the 1998
conference. It turned out to be the largest conference held during his
presidency at PTS as over 400 people from all over the world came for the
celebration. The suggestion at the conference to establish an annual Kuyper
Prize was quickly welcomed and made into a significant event. He supported the
purchase of George Puchinger’s huge book collection which contained much
material on neo-calvinism. Another memorable event was when the Kuyper Prize
was extended to Prime Minister Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands. On that
same day Tom quickly agreed to the proposal to establish a chair in Reformed
Theology and Public Life featuring neo-calvinism.
Tom Gillespie’s presidency
enabled the Seminary community to gain greater awareness of the importance of
doing ministry in a global context. He supported international field education
placements and internships in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the
In 1986, the Seminary’s
alumni/ae provided a generous gift to establish a chair in World Christianity
named in honor of the third president, Dr. John A. Mackay. The chair provided
the opportunity for the appointment of a distinguished international visiting
scholar from outside North America and Western Europe to enhance the Seminary’s
exposure to and interaction with new voices and issues in the global church.
Tom Gillespie also changed and
benefited the Board of Trustees. The changes were most evident in committees,
in which recommendations that previously would only have been heard and
approved were seriously, and not uncritically, discussed. A consequence was
that trustees felt a growing sense of responsibility and involvement in the
Seminary’s mission. These changes were inspired by Tom Gillespie’s openness and
desire for participation, and by his conviction that the Seminary and its staff
needed to be genuinely accountable to a group that embodied the institution’s
Presbyterian identity and was committed to its growth and well being.
These were enormous challenges,
often led courageously against the prevailing culture. Tom Gillespie acted always
with generosity and grace. He was sustained by his family, was constantly with his
beloved Barbara, and was always devoted to his Lord.
At the time of his retirement Tom said, ''It
was not an easy job. It could be draining. But I leave with a heart full of
gratitude.'' We in turn thank God for such a man, such a life and such an inspiration.
We send heartfelt sympathy to Barbara, Robyn, William and Dayle.
of Princeton Theological Seminary and Professor of Patristics
The memorial service for President Gillespie will be held at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton on Monday, November 14, 2011, at 1:00 p.m., followed by a reception in the Main Lounge of the Mackay Campus Center on the Seminary’s main campus. Parking at the Seminary will be limited. There will be a private burial preceding the memorial service.
Donations marked “The President Thomas W. Gillespie Scholarship Fund” may be sent to Princeton Seminary’s Department of Seminary Relations, 64 Mercer Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, in honor of President Gillespie. Online donations can be made as well. Click here to give online. On the donation page under the “other” category, enter “Gillespie Scholarship” and the amount of your gift.
A celebration of President Gillespie’s life is being planned for a future date.
Click here for directions to Nassau Presbyterian Church.
Click here for directions to Princeton Theological Seminary.