Thomas James Gillcrist

Published 7:51 pm Saturday, August 27, 2016

Thomas James Gillcrist, born in Boston, Mass., on July 30, 1934, to Howard Melvin Gillcrist and Phyllis Eileen Myles, of New Brunswick, Canada, passed away in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 14, 2016.

After 1939, he lived in various Southern cities where his father supervised the construction of military training bases, and then settled in Suffolk, where he graduated from high school.

He was an Eagle Scout and a rifle instructor at a Scout camp on the James River in Virginia. At that point, the river was three miles wide, and one day he swam across it.


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At Duke University from 1952-1956, he earned a Bachelor of Arts and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He was on the award-winning debate team that faced the Cambridge University team on the question of recognizing the government of Communist China.

In 1954, he received a scholarship to Harvard summer school.

In August 1956, he married Molly Meffert, a fellow Duke student.

He received a Danforth Fellowship to Harvard graduate school and in 1962 he became a faculty member in English literature and humanities at Reed College, where he was given early tenure. He chose Reed because of its emphasis on teaching rather than research.

His lectures in the humanities classes were highly valued, and he was asked to prepare five of them for publication when he retired.

When teaching something he had previously taught, he did not just re-read his notes. He always re-read and re-thought. In conferences with students, he saw himself as an advisor rather than critic.

He had an encyclopedic knowledge of automobiles, composers, operas, classical singers, and conductors as well as literature.

He won the Graves Award for excellence in teaching the humanities and used it to do research at the British Museum in London.

During 1970-71 he was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto.

In 1973 he was awarded a Fulbright lectureship to Kyonghee University in Seoul. This year was followed by a U.S. government-sponsored lecture tour of universities in Korea, Japan and southeast Asia.

The year he retired, he was guest editor of the Nineteenth Century Prose issue featuring Thomas Macaulay.

He had great integrity. If he said he’d do something, he did it. If he said he’d be somewhere, he was there. He gave no disappointment, no anxiety. He was honest. He was smart, kind and absolutely reliable.

He is survived by his wife, son and daughter. His son, Andrew Myles Gillcrist, is a software engineer. His daughter, Amy Katherine Gillcrist, is an internist.

A memorial service for Tom will be held at Reed College in Portland, Ore., later this fall.