John Gillis

John William Gillis, a resident of Healdsburg, California, passed away on May 28th.  He is survived by his partner Gretchen McKay, half-siblings Richard (Dick) Gillis and Dorothy Brenton, son Bruce Gillis, and four grandchildren: Charles (Wesley) Morris, Claire Gillis, John (Tyler) Gay, and Katherine Gillis. John also had a daughter, Susan Randle Gillis, who predeceased him.

John was born and grew to adulthood in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. All of his grandparents were family farmers. His parents gained college education and moved to Champaign-Urbana, where his father was a plant geneticist. John walked down the street to earn a BA in Medieval History at the University of Illinois, then completed a PhD in Psychology (Measurement) at Purdue University.

This led to a career in higher education. John’s professional path took him first to a deanship at Illinois State University, then to a research and program management role at the Association of American Colleges. He then served as academic provost at Chapman College before finishing his career as director of testing at California State University Fullerton.

In retirement, John found his way to Healdsburg, California, where he lived happily for the last 25 years of his life. The community’s agricultural foundation and sophisticated population felt like home to the man raised in a university town in the middle of “corn-and-bean” country. 

John’s being was forged as a youth growing up during the Great Depression and Second World War and spending summers at Boy Scout camps and family farms. He could repair or build most anything and enjoyed many home-based hobbies that utilized these talents. He collected stamps, coins and potentially useful articles of metal, glass, wire and string – activities common to his peers but both foreign and baffling to his grandchildren. He enjoyed gardening, photography, music and reading, and could identify dozens of birds by sight or by their call.

John’s greatest joy was European travel, where he was always the student of medieval history. He rarely passed a town, church, monastery or castle without stopping to learn about the history of its human inhabitants, art and architecture. He had a scholar’s ability to appreciate the glorious achievements of human energy during medieval and Renaissance periods, while simultaneously understanding the inequity and immense suffering of people at the hands of the institutions that produced those structures and works of art.

People will likely remember John for his ready smile, his sense of humor, his energy and his impressive base of knowledge. He was not outgoing, but was always a warm and enthusiastic host. And few spent time with him without learning something.

No service is planned.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that you consider a contribution in memory of John Gillis to:

Brain Support Network, P O Box 7264, Menlo Park, CA 94026

(650) 814-0848 •  


Sutter Health – Sutter at Home (Hospice), 

P O Box 160045, Sacramento, CA 95816 • (707) 535-5700

(0) entries

Sign the guestbook.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.