The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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An Oral History of the Francois Gilfillan family

An interview with Nan Jensen and Ellen Johnson conducted by Anne Bahde and Trevor Sandgathe.

November 1, 2013


Elizabeth Ellen (Gilfillan) Johnson (b. 1932) attended Corvallis High School and Oregon State College. She graduated from OSC in 1954 with a B.S. in General Science and returned to OSU in 1976 to continue her education in counseling and guidance. Nansie Jean (Gilfillan) Jensen (b. 1935) also attended Corvallis High School and Oregon State College. Like her sister, Nan studied General Science, graduating in the class of 1957.

Francois Archibald "Doc" Gilfillan was born in Ninnekah, Oklahoma in 1893. In 1911 he visited an uncle in Washington and took a job teaching at a public high school. Four years later Gilfillan enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College where he became Associate Editor of the OAC Barometer, President of the Pharmaceutical Association and a ROTC cadet captain. In 1918 he earned his bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy with first honors. After graduation he joined the U.S. Army and served briefly in the Chemical Warfare Service.

Following academic stints at Yale University and the University of Florida, Gilfillan returned to OAC in 1927 for an appointment as Professor of Chemistry. The following year he married Violette Odekirk, a Portland native, with whom he would have four children: Mary Louise, Elizabeth Ellen, Nansie Jean, and Margaret Alice. In 1939 Gilfillan was promoted to Dean of Science. The following year, when President Frank L. Ballard fell ill, Gilfillan assumed some of the duties of College President. In 1941, following Ballard's resignation, he was officially appointed Acting President of Oregon State College. He served in this position until October 1942 when A. L. Strand was named President. Gilfillan returned to his position as Dean of Science where he remained until his retirement in 1962.

Gilfillan did a great deal to further science education on both the local and national scale. He was instrumental in the formation and administration of the Junior Engineers' and Scientists' Summer Institute (JESSI). He was also a founder of the OSU chapter of the Blue Key Honors Society, was one of the five original incorporators of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), and served on numerous administrative bodies seeking to advance science education across the country.

In addition to his professional duties, Gilfillan also maintained an active extracurricular life. He was a Rotarian, a Master Mason, and an active member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. He spoke German, Russian, French, Italian and Chinook and could read Latin, Greek, Chinese, and Spanish. He also collected antique British silver, cultivated an authentic Japanese garden and amassed an impressive collection of rare books. He passed away in 1983.