E. Ward Gilman ’53

E. Ward Gilman ’53 died on June 15, 2022, in Westfield, Massachusetts.

(The following was provided by the Firtion Adams Funeral Service on June 21, 2022)

E. Ward Gilman ’53

Eugene Ward Gilman passed away on June 15, 2022, at ninety years of age. Gil, as he preferred to be known, was a resident of Westfield, Massachusetts, for most of his adult life. He was born in Akron, Ohio, on June 23, 1931, to Eugene and Winifred Gilman. He spent his toddler years in Akron, before his family moved to Plainfield, New Jersey, where he resided and attended school up until his departure for Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine for the fall semester of 1949. He graduated with the class of 1953 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. He was inducted into the US Army in November of 1953, served two years in active duty and honorably discharged from the Army Reserve in October of 1961. Gil served his second year on active duty stationed in France and was married at the end of his tour of duty to his college sweetheart, Jean Bentley, in Angoulême, France on August 2, 1955; the young couple honeymooned in Paris prior to returning to the United States. Because of a mix up at the Army base, Jean and Gil were married first in the church in Angoulême, and then by the civil authorities, which was the opposite of the accepted protocol; consequently, they are probably the last couple in the history of France to have been married first in a church before having their union recognized by the civil authorities. Upon their return, they moved to Weymouth, Massachusetts and Gil enrolled in the graduate school at Boston University to pursue his Master’s Degree in English, which he attained in the class of 1958. Gil started his professional career at Merriam-Webster Dictionaries in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1959 and remained at the firm up until his retirement in 1997. Over the course of his career, he rose from the position of proofreader to become a Senior Editor at Merriam, as well as the principal author and Managing Director of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, which was released in 1994 to nearly universal acclaim (other than from The New York Times’ William Safire, who found the book far too lenient in the relative weight it gave to contemporary practices of usage in comparison to the established scholarly commentary on the subject from more distant times). In addition to his long career at Merriam, Gil was also an active member of Dictionary Society of America. In addition to his professional pursuits, Gil was a great lover of art, music and baseball. His artistic bent was catered to throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when he painted with regularity and also scratched his creative itch with a decade’s worth of woodworking. He was also an accomplished musician, playing bass in jazz bands while still at Bowdoin College, and then playing guitar and banjo throughout the rest of his adult life. He performed with a folk and bluegrass band known as the Wild Water Drifters throughout the decade of the 1980s. Beyond his own performative skills, he was an avid scholar of jazz music, which was the most popular American music form of his youth and which remained his passion until his last days. His love of jazz was nearly matched by his love of baseball, and only days before he passed away he was recounting the memories of his first baseball game at Yankee Stadium in 1945 (a doubleheader) and suffered the long wait of diehard Red Sox fans from the time he moved to Weymouth in 1955 up until they finally won the World Series again in 2004. He was also noteworthy for sharing with his wife Jean a love of cuisine and wine (perhaps picked up during their time in France together?) and Gil was noteworthy for manning the stoves and sharing cooking duties from the early 1970s onwards, making him one of the few fathers in Westfield that did more than walk in the door from work, pour himself a drink and ask his wife what was for dinner. Gil was pre-deceased by his beloved wife, Jean, who passed away in June of 2009. He leaves behind his three sons, William, James and John, as well as his two granddaughters, Meghan Gilman and Arielle Gilman.

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