In Memoriam

Recent Obituaries
In Memoriam Archive

Robert Gordon Gillespie ’55

Robert Gordon Gillespie ’55, October 11, 2014, in Portland, after a struggle with Lewy body disease. A pioneer in the field of IT in higher education, and one of the first people to be considered a chief information officer in a university setting, Bob graduated from Grant High School in Portland and earned a BA from Reed in mathematics. “The process, the challenge, the demands prepared me to be creative, confident, and a risk taker.” He maintained a lifelong connection to the college and served as an alumni trustee in 1996–2000. After Reed, Bob entered the new field of digital computing. He first worked at Convair Astronautics, where he developed simulations for rocket guidance. Next, he was responsible for software research and architecture at Boeing, and then worked at Control Data doing software development. But it was at the University of Washington, where he served as director of the computer center and vice provost for computing, that he found his true calling.

Bob was a visionary, long anticipating the growth of technology and the internet; because of his early advocacy, he had a profound influence on federal policies that shaped technology in higher education. He assisted in the founding of computing organizations such as the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium, EDUCOM (now EDUCAUSE), and the Seminars on Academic Computing, and was a model for subsequent generations of higher education IT leaders. His work was recognized with the Kaul Foundation Award of Excellence for achievements as an educator, author, and expert in the field of computing in 1996; the 2009 EDUCAUSE Leadership Award in recognition of contributions to the computing profession; and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the NWACC in 2011 for his role in creating that organization.

In 1984, he cofounded the consulting firm of Gillespie, Folkner and Associates, which assisted in information technology planning for institutions of higher education, federal and state agencies, and the computing industry. In 1992, he founded Robert Gillespie Associates, which provided counsel on national issues of networks for universities and other partners. He was also an adviser on national computing and network policy issues for the Higher Education and Library Coalition on Information Policy, a coalition of national higher education and library associations.

Bob also had a rich and rewarding family life. He and Mary Jo Mickelson ’55 married in 1953 and raised two sons, Peter Barr-Gillespie ’81 and Scott Gillespie ’84. The family enjoyed summertime camping, hiking, vacationing in the San Juan Islands, and traveling the Pacific Northwest and beyond to visit wineries and friends. They also enjoyed hunting for edible mushrooms, particularly morels in the spring and chanterelles in the fall. Wine and food were two of Bob’s main passions. In addition to wine tasting, he made wine for many years and never stopped researching and collecting favorite wines. He was an outstanding cook and inspired his sons to also become happy denizens of the kitchen. Two of his other passions were fishing, particularly for ling cod and salmon in the San Juan Islands, and mountain climbing, both in the Cascades and in the Olympics.

“Owing to the fact that Bob outlived so many of his peers, there are relatively few people in the profession today who know Bob or his work,” writes Marty Ringle, Reed’s chief information officer. “Being modest by nature, he spent no time engraving his name on the initiatives he championed; hence, his legacy may be obscure to all but those closest to him. But to those of us who knew him he is, and always will be, the mentor who showed us not only how to be IT leaders, but also why. Rest well, Bob, you’ve earned it.” Survivors include Mary Jo; Peter, and Scott; daughters-in-law Ann Barr-Gillespie ’82 and Nancy Gillespie; grandchildren Katie and Aidan Gillespie; and his brother Bruce. The family suggests donations in his name to Reed College.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2015

comments powered by Disqus