Thomas W. Gillespie, retired Princeton Seminary president, dies

Longtime pastor, church leader was 83

November 7, 2011

The Rev. Thomas W. Gillespie is graduation attire.

The Rev. Thomas W. Gillespie


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.

  1. I offer my condolences to this family on their loss. What a wonderful leader he was, you can see the love and light in his likeness. shine on pastor Gillespie.

    by Helen Gillespie Holt

    August 21, 2014

  2. And the angels are laughing with him! To Barbara and their family we know that there are no words that console, so we say only "Thanks for the memories" and how grateful we are to have been a part of the early years of the Gillespie community.

    by patricia and Duane Blackack

    February 17, 2012

  3. And the angels are laughing with him! To Barbara and their family we know there are no words to console so we say" Thanks for the memories" and for our family being a part of the Gillespie community oh so many years ago.

    by Patricia and Duane Black

    February 17, 2012

  4. I was honored to have known President Gillespie for most of my career. He was a builder and great Church Leader. He brought great pastoral experience to Academia. We have lost a great leader. He will be remembered for ages to come.

    by Rev. Ron Hooker (Yale Graduate)

    November 11, 2011

  5. Tom Gillespie was for me both a pastor and a teacher of the faith. Remembering with gratitude days in Burlingame and Princeton. Tom, enter into the joy of your master.

    by Jon Martin

    November 11, 2011

  6. Tom Gillespie was one of the denomination's "better angels." He was a great pastor and seminary president, who was never too busy or self-important to be available for those who needed him. In an era bereft of leaders, he combined strength with compassion and integrity. Blessings and condolences to his family.

    by Bill Borror

    November 7, 2011