In Memoriam

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Peter Riffle Gilpin ’55

A picture of Peter Gilpin

Peter Riffle Gilpin ’55, December 22, 2014, in Honolulu, Hawai’i, following a long struggle with congestive heart failure. A California native and longtime resident of Honolulu, Peter was born and raised in Los Angeles, where he graduated from University High School in 1950. He came to Reed in 1951 and made many lifelong friends there, including his future wife Louise Palmer Gerity ’55. The young couple spent a year in New York City, where Peter attended art school while Louise completed graduate training in librarianship. After their return to the islands, Peter and Louise divorced. Peter completed his bachelor’s degree and earned a master’s degree in sociology at the University of Hawaii, working as a teaching assistant and becoming very active in the cultural life of the university. He next went to California, where he spent some years as a clinical social worker in the San Francisco Bay Area, before returning in the late ’60s to Hawai’i. He worked for many years as a photographer, both freelance and at the Bishop Museum. Peter was known as an inveterate collector, and possessed a remarkable array of artifacts, from porcine masks, figurines, and graphics to beer steins, calligraphic equipment, and Japanese prints. He continued throughout his life to practice the calligraphy to which he had first been introduced at Reed. An independent scholar, raconteur, and keen cultural observer and commentator, and always interested in politics, he was very active in the campaign of his old friend Neil Abercrombie, congressman and governor of Hawaii, 2010–14. A random sample of Peter’s style, from a letter a few years back in which he described the renewal of his driver’s license: “The giggling of this old geezer is occasioned by some salubrious events which were rather unexpected and most welcome! My new driver’s license—known in Hawai’i as a ‘Driver License,’ you’ll note—is today in my actual physical possession . . . . Trepidation accrued unusually to this process because my vision of late has deteriorated substantially. Thus, fears of failing the eye test were foremost in my mind. But not to worry! As I utterly failed the first level required on the chart in the machine, the kindly woman switched over to a larger format, which I was able to correctly read! My heart had flipped up into my throat in the meantime, but I was redeemed! I was given a 20/40 rating. On to the ‘Question and Answer Section,’ I assumed, as has always been the case in renewals. Amazement! Disbelief! They shunted me right over into the ‘Photograph’ line where, after a short wait, I was photo’d and fingerprinted, and paid, and within 10 minutes the actual finished plastic product was in my hand. And now, I’m a licensed driver once more!” His eyes went on to fail, as did, ultimately, his heart. But his wit and humor accompanied him to the very end. He is survived by his sister Kate Gilpin, who composed this memorial, as well as many friends and colleagues who remember him as a true original.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2015

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