In Memoriam Thomas W. Gillespie 1928–2011

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Dr. Thomas W. Gillespie, president emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary, died at Princeton Medical Center on November 5, 2011. He was 83 years old.

Gillespie was appointed as the fifth president of the Seminary, the first theological seminary established by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and the largest Presbyterian seminary in the country, in 1983 and served as president and professor of New Testament until his retirement in 2004.

During his presidency, Gillespie strengthened the Seminary faculty with the addition of three African American professors, eleven women professors, and the first professor of science and theology, Dr. Wentzel van Huyssteen, from South Africa. Gillespie’s tenure saw the establishment of the Kyung-Chik Han Chair in Systematic Theology, held by Professor Sang Lee and the first chair at an American seminary to honor an Asian church leader.

During Gillespie’s presidency, Princeton Seminary constructed several new buildings, including Luce Library, Scheide and Templeton Halls, the Witherspoon Apartments, and a new parking garage. Erdman Hall was completely redesigned and renovated as the Seminary’s state-of-the-art continuing education center (now the home of the School of Christian Vocation and Mission), and Miller Chapel underwent a major restoration, including the installation of the Joe. R. Engle Organ.in_mem_Gillespie.jpg

Under Gillespie’s leadership, the Seminary established the Institute for Youth Ministry, one of the foremost educational programs in support of the theology and practice of youth ministry in the country.

Gillespie also led in the development of a significant partnership with Pew Charitable Trust and Lilly Endowment Inc. to provide an office for the Hispanic Theological Initiative, a national initiative to support and train Ph.D.-level Hispanic/Latina(o) scholars and teachers.

Gillespie was the author of The First Theologians: A Study in Early Christian Prophecy, published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in 1994.

But it was as a pastor that Thomas Gillespie was most known and valued by the Seminary community and alumni/ae. He regularly preached in chapel during his presidency, and often provided pastoral care to students, faculty members, and staff. He once said that “there is no work in the world that is more interesting, more challenging, and more gratifying than the work of pastoral ministry. Among the honors that have come to me, I can think of none greater than when a member of my congregation has introduced me to a friend by saying, ‘I would like you to meet my pastor.’”

Gillespie understood the Seminary as being in service to the church, and served on many denominational committees and bodies of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and of San Francisco and New Brunswick Presbyteries. After his retirement, he served as a member of the General Assembly Council, the PCUSA’s national governing council.

Gillespie graduated from Pepperdine University in 1951 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1954. Prior to assuming his position as president of Princeton Theological Seminary, he began a new church in Garden Grove, California, and served as its pastor from 1954 to 1966. In 1966 he was called to be pastor and head of staff of the First Presbyterian Church in Burlingame, California, and served there until 1983. He earned a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate School in 1971.

Dr. Gillespie is survived by his wife of 58 years, Barbara; his son William Gillespie of London, England, and daughter-in-law Angela Im; his daughter Robyn Glassman of Denver, Colorado, and son-in-law Kenneth Glassman; and his daughter Dayle Gillespie Rounds of Princeton, New Jersey, and son-in-law Stephen Rounds; and his grandchildren William, Trevor, and Hilary Glassman, Isla Gillespie, and Emilia and Alexandra Rounds.

Memorial gifts in honor of President Gillespie may be made to the Thomas W. Gillespie Scholarship Endowment Fund and sent to the Office of Seminary Relations, Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer Street, Princeton, NJ 08540. Online donations can be made by going to Give to PTS in the navigation bar on the home page (, and clicking “give online” in the drop-down menu. On the donation page under the “other” category, enter “Gillespie Scholarship” and the amount of your gift.

Posted by Nina Rogers at 01/23/2012 04:03:18 PM | 

Tom Gillespie gave me the opportunity to exercise every gift for ministry I possessed through the Office of Field Education. My gratitude for his life is boundless.
Posted by: Harry A. Freebairn ( Email ) at 1/26/2012 3:46 PM

I applied to the Master of Divinity Program at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1987 after which I was invited to a weekend on campus. President Gillespie met with prospective students and each of us was asked to stand, give our name,and briefly describe our calling and why we applied to PTS. After about three months I was accepted into the program, however, deferred for one year in order to work out the details of having to do with resigning my teaching job. When I entered PTS in 1988 I was paving the way as an African American woman in the Baptist Church. Thus, I endured many trials and tribulations as a result of my calling. There was one time in particular that I went to Dr. Gillespie's office almost in tears, as I was facing yet another challenge as a woman in a traditional denomination that was indecisive about the inclusion of women in the pulpit.. He talked with me at length about "what to do when those torpedos start coming". I will always treasure the picture of the sign outside Miller Chapel on which I was listed as preacher under President Gillespie, who had also preached that day as well as the class picture that we took with him sitting in the center of the front row. However, what I will treasure most about Dr. Gillespie is his very warm smile when he presented the Master of Divinity Degree to me in Princeton Chapel, 1992. He said, "Well, look who made it!" My spirit then told me that not only was I receiving my degree from the President of PTS, but also from a friend. I am so proud that he endorsed my first book, "Sermons from the Heart, A Collection of Divinely Inspired Devotional Sermons, A Special Tribute. The years have quickly rolled by, but I will always feel honored to have attended seminary under his presidency. May his memory be forever cherished by his family and all who knew him.

Respectfully submitted,
The Reverend Berlinda A. Hart Love
Class of 1992
Posted by: Berlinda A. Love ( Email ) at 10/11/2012 10:59 PM

His leadership enlightened Princeton Theological Seminary, the passion he has for what he was doing was evident in everything he did. He will always be remembered for everything he has done.
Posted by: How to Preaching ( Email ) at 11/5/2012 11:51 PM

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