Deceased December 7, 2021
John Gillis died after a long illness, at home in Berkeley, Calif., in December 2021. A history major at Amherst, John was a member of Phi Delt and ran cross-country for all four years. After graduation and marriage to Tina Marsden Gillis (Mount Holyoke ’60), he completed his Ph.D. in history at Stanford. His subsequent teaching career began at Princeton and continued for more than three decades at Rutgers. Never content to remain in one field of interest, John was the author and editor of 10 books ranging through topics in political, social, cultural and environmental history. Evolving from years as a summer resident on Gotts Island, Maine, he was recognized by the National Endowment for the Humanities for his work as a founder of the field of “blue humanities,” namely the interdisciplinary study of islands, coasts and oceans. Nevertheless, his love of teaching, inspired by Amherst, remained his preeminent focus.
John’s ashes were buried by his family at Gotts Island, in the small cemetery overlooking the sea. He is survived by wife Tina, son Christopher Gillis and two grandchildren.
Bob Madgic ’60 added, “When my wife, Diane, and I traveled to Stanford in 1961, John and his wife, Tina, were there to welcome us. They graciously allowed us to stay in their place for a week. We became good friends and enjoyed wonderful outings together. Four years ago, we had a brief reunion at their home in Berkeley. I remember John for his measured judgment, kindness and quick wit. To know what happened across their lives, read John’s masterpiece on changing seacoasts, The Human Shore, as well as Tina’s Where Edges Don’t Hold, a tale of life on Gotts Island for three months each summer. I can think of no more admirable and wholesome individuals than John and Tina.”
Tina Gillis and Bob Madgic ’60