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In Memory . . . Jean Lois Witman Gilpatrick

Posted By Jessica Cambio, Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Reverend Jean Witman Gilpatrick died on June 4, 2009 in Bethesda, Maryland.  She was 84. Rev. Gilpatrick was born on April 4, 1925, in East Orange, New Jersey, to Margaret Jeanetta Nietman and William Uhler Witman.  She graduated with a BA in Sociology from Connecticut College for Women in 1947.  After college she received a Danforth Graduate Fellowship for one year of interdenominational religious work at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.  In 1949, she traveled with her husband, Thomas Gilpatrick, to Denmark where they participated in a Danish program called Folkhighschool.

During the 1950’s and 60’s, while raising her children, Rev. Gilpatrick earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from the University of Chicago.  She also held a variety of positions.  She was Assistant Minister for the Wesley Foundation in Chicago; directed the Interns in Industry program for the American Friends Service Committee in East Chicago, Indiana; and taught bible classes through the Universal Christian Association at Penn State University, among others.  In 1966, she traveled with her family to Hyderabad, India, where she conducted independent study in the philosophies and religions of India.  Upon her return, she was Assistant Professor at both the Virginia Seminary of Lynchburg, Virginia, and Central Virginia Community College teaching courses in Philosophy and Religion.

Early in the 1960’s Rev. Gilpatrick, with her husband and his colleague from Sweet Briar College, drafted a letter to the editor signed by about 70 faculty and staff members from three white Lynchburg area colleges supporting the rights of blacks to picket stores, lunch counters, and movie theaters.  Many black leaders later said this was the first evidence they had seen locally of group support for civil rights.  She continued her college teaching during the 1970’s; worked as an art therapist; and offered workshops in Death, Grief, & Loss, and Feminist Theology.  In 1977 she earned a Doctor of Ministry from Meadville Lombard Theological School. 

In 1981, Rev. Gilpatrick was ordained at the First Unitarian Church of Lynchburg, VA.  She was called to the First Unitarian Church of Alton, Illinois and served there from 1983 until 1985.  In 1987 she served as Interim minister to the UU Society of Northern Fairfield County in West Redding, Connecticut.  When she wasn’t serving these congregations, Rev. Gilpatrick was a visiting and consulting minister to various congregations.  She preached, taught adult education classes, chaired district committees, was an active member of the National Organization for Women and the UU Women’s Federation and served on the executive committee of Citizens to Save Civil and Religious Freedom.

Rev. Gilpatrick is survived by her daughters, Diana Gilpatrick of Potomac, MD, and Morgan Gilpatrick of Bowie MD; her grandchildren, Charlotte Andrea Albrecht, Thomas Brian Gilpatrick Dagget, and Samuel William Gilpatrick Dagget; her brother, William P. Witman of Locust, NJ; and many nieces and nephews.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Jefferson Choral Society, P. O. Box 4623, Lynchburg, VA 24502, the Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave, Fl 17, Chicago, IL 60601, or the Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers’ and Partners’ Association, c/o Nancy Doughty, 12055 S Woodwinds Circle # 13, Traverse City, MI 49684.

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