The Rev. Thomas W. Gillespie, a pastor, theologian and church leader of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), died Nov. 5 of complications from surgery earlier in the week. He was 83.
A native of Los Angeles, Gillespie graduated from Pepperdine University in 1951 and Princeton Theological Seminary in 1954. He earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from Claremont Graduate School of Theology in 1971. While at Princeton, he received the A.A. Hodge Prize in Systematic Theology in 1953.
Following his graduation from Princeton, Gillespie served two lengthy pulpits in California ― as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Garden Grove from 1954-1966 and as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame from 1966-1983.
Gillespie became the fifth president of Princeton Theological Seminary ― the oldest seminary in the United States ― in 1983, succeeding the Rev. James I. McCord. He served as president and professor of New Testament until his retirement in 2004.
In a message to the Princeton community, President Iain Torrance wrote: “It 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.”
Gillespie’s service to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was lengthy. He served as moderator of San Francisco Presbytery, as a PC(USA) delegate to the Consultation on Church Union, a member of the General Assembly’s Task Force on Biblical Authority and Interpretation, and as chair of the Standing Committee on Theological Education.
At the time of his death, Gillespie was serving on the General Assembly Mission Council and served a term as chair of its Discipleship Committee.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara; three children ― Robyn, William and Dayle; and several grandchildren.
A memorial service has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 14 at Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, N.J.
It has been my privilege to get to know Tom Gillespie over the last seven years as we served together on the General Assembly Mission Council. Every so often you come across people who model qualities you hope to incorporate into your own life. Dr. Gillespie was one of those people for me. While carrying an air authoriy he was also humble and approachable. I valued his passion for pastoral theology and equipping congregants for ministry in their lives. He will be deeply missed and my prayers are with the Gillispie family as they celebrate his life and mourn his departure.