The Center for Studies of the Person’s founding Director, Dr. Thomas Gillette, died on Friday after gracing this earth for more than 90 years.
Tom was an amazing presence– always energetic, always bubbling with truly innovative ideas, and (almost) always carrying an ironic and otherwise humorous outlook toward himself and his fellow human beings.
He was a Professor of Sociology at San Diego State University and did extensive work as a consultant to many, many organizations and influential enterprises. In his later years he served on the faculty at Point Loma Nazarene University — an enthusiastic, energetic teacher and mentor. I remember his teaching style as immensely innovative — showering audiences with funny, surprising, anomalous linked facts, and urging them to see the social world anew in order to understand how it really is rather than their previously sheltered-in-bubble assumed constructions.
His work — with colleagues from CSP and from his many international contacts — applying humanistic sociology to particular social issues of the day, was legendary, and the source of many tall and taller tales. I will never forget Tom’s boosts to me in my establishing a professional life in San Diego.
Tom displayed a deep love of people. Tom flourished in the company of other thoughtful men; Tom loved women. He was married — serially — to several different women during his life, and found deep caring and inspiration with Melanie; with her companionship in his final several decades he became a devoted Christian. He is the father of a son. He leaves a long wake of affection and intellect and hope into our storm-tossed world.
Remembering My Friend & Mentor – Tom Gillette
The passing of Tom Gillette in his 91st year reminds me to channel sadness into gratitude for those who were exemplars and creators of the person-centered community. Yes, Tom was the first CSP (non)Director, and he set an example in our first two years that few could emulate. An inspiring speaker on stage, a caring facilitator in any venue, Tom Gillette simply glowed as a charismatic leader whose ideas and visions stirred hope and personal courage to act. From the first time I met Tom at Western Behavioral Sciences Institute till our last visit at his home in Point Loma, his vital faith in our mutual goodwill gleamed like a beacon of eternal friendship. I have always said that Tom was my mentor; what he taught me first and foremost was to return the complement – Tom made mentorship reciprocal. Tom Gillette saw the creative and giving light in persons and moved us to step out into the world and make it a kinder, more collaborative and hopeful place. Every risk I have taken in the past fifty years is grounded in Tom and my mutual urgency to reach out and enable the social synergy that helps humanity thrive.
It’s no surprise that throughout our discussions of new CSP project development I’ve been talking about Tom’s vital role in the founding and growth of CSP and its members. I have described the places Tom took and sent me to apply our compassionate social altruism. From a thriving “hippy” commune in Colorado, to a Navy Aircraft carrier in the China Sea on the way to Viet Nam, to the Internal Revenue Service in D.C., and the Musical Instrument Manufacturers Convention in New Orleans — Tom’s magnetic enthusiasm and his magnanimous faith taught me to trust my inclinations to give the best-of-me to societies in far-flung arenas, wherever persons seek to advance social wellbeing.
Who else but Tom Gillette, Sociology Department Chairman at San Diego State University, would invite a comparative psychologist to join his department to teach Introductory Sociology, to invent a class called Social Change Systems, and to go to Arizona to teach the Psychology of Prejudice? While sending diverse colleagues on unique and tough assignments, Tom took most of the biggest risks himself. He broke ground with new organizations, inspiring corporate leadership so his colleagues could come in and help facilitate innovation and change. While we empathized with persons in their off-duty hours, Tom went with them on the job so he could share their challenges. Only Tom Gillette would translate his deep wish for a world of Tolerance-for-All into becoming a Volunteer Policeman, sitting shotgun with Officers driving the streets of San Diego in Patrol cars, transforming his compatriot “men in blue” and their whole community from crime-fighters into servants of community safety and wellbeing?
“Take your inspired competence out into society,” Tom said.
That’s how I will fill the empty space in my heart and soul: I shall transform my mourning into remembering to “do what Tom would do” — give all the goodwill and faith I’ve got to helping others build themselves and their communities into harmonious elements of a global civilization that honors the sacred life of every being on Earth.
I’m forever grateful to my beloved friend Tom Gillette for inspiring Center for Studies of the Person, and me, to foster a better kinder world. I pray for his loved ones and dream of the day when we’ll all be reunited in the place where compassion abides forever. Tom’s with me now; he’s always here inside, faithful, encouraging me to give my best and see the best in others. He’s here in the Center too, cheering us on. Thanks Tom.
With Love… Tony Rose