Former Princeton Theological Seminary President Dies


Thomas W. Gillespie, president emeritus of Princeton Theological Seminary, died at the University Medical Center at Princeton on Nov. 5. He was 83.

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

Gillespie strengthened the diversity of the school’s faculty during his tenure, with the addition of three African American professors, eleven women professors, and the first professor of science and theology. The school also created the first professorship 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, and Miller Chapel underwent a major restoration, including the installation of the Joe. R. Engle Organ.

Under his leadership, the school 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 doctorate level Hispanic 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 Gillespie was most known and valued by the Seminary community and alumni. 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 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.

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.

A memorial service will be held at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton on Nov. 14 at 1 p.m., followed by a reception at Princeton Seminary. The Mather Hodge Funeral Home in Princeton is handling the arrangements.

Memorial gifts 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.

One Comment

  1. Thomas Gillespie was a long time treasured friend of my husband, Gerald Durand Lyman, also known as Jerry, who was a Princeton Theological Seminary graduate(’55). Tom and Jerry grew up together at Vermont Avenue Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, CA. Jerry’s mother, Iola Lyman, was the only one that Tom would allow to call him “Tommy”; she loved him dearly and once visited him in his office at Princeton when he was then the President. That visit was a highlight in her life, for she had known Tom and his beautiful wife, Barbara, when they were young adults in the youth group at the church. Tom participated in our wedding and took great delight in telling many folks that “he married me”! We always had a good laugh over that comment, but in a sense he did “marry me” because Jerry, Tom and I were “married” in a most meaningful friendship for over 50 years, along with Barbara.
    Tom and I served together on the General Assembly Mission Council (PCUSA) for several years. He was my dear friend, too, and a mentor and support to me, as I was involved in mission and ministry with the denomination.
    On August 11, 2011, Jerry went to his eternal home with God. In September, Tom wrote a beautiful and most cherished eulogy, which was read by our two children at Jerry’s memorial service in Hemet, CA . It may have been one of Tom’s final writings as he paid loving tribute to his good friend, Jerry Lyman. That kind and gracious gesture blessed our family. It was just like Tom to always honor meaningful friendships and fulfill his promise to me to be present with me at Jerry’s service. He was there through his own well-expressed, often humorous, words in print.
    Now, Tom and Jerry are together in God’s Presence. The encouraging visual image I hold on to in my mind and heart is of these two dear friends in lively conversation together, continuing to wrestle with pertinent topics related to the Worldwide Church and challenging theological issues, which meant so much to both men, as they served Christ’s Church so faithfully all of their lives. They were kindred spirits bound together by God’s love through Jesus Christ.
    I offer my heartfelt sympathy to Barbara and the entire Gillespie family. May God’s comfort, hope, and peace be your’s today and always. Jacquie Lyman and Family

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