Edward S. Gilfillan Jr.

Edward S. Gilfillan Jr.former director of Bowdoin’s Marine Research Station and adjunct professor and lecturer in the environmental studies program from 1977-2001 (emeritus 2001), died on December 14, 2017, in Harpswell, Maine.

(The following was published in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram on December 24, 2017:)

Ed passed away after a brief illness on December 14, 2017. Ed lived in Harpswell and is survived by his wife of 53 years, Katherine (Kathie).

Ed was born on June 1, 1941, to Edward Gilfillan II and Ruth Chadderdon Gilfillan and grew up in Manchester, Mass. He graduated in 1959 from Manchester High School. At Yale University, he majored in zoology and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1963, followed by MSc (1966) and PhD (1970) degrees at the University of British Columbia, where he studied zooplankton ecology.

In 1970-1971, Ed was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Massachusetts Marine Station, and from 1971 to 1974 he was a senior research associate there. He then went on to be a researcher at the Bigelow Laboratory of Ocean Sciences in Boothbay Harbor. He joined the Bowdoin faculty in the fall of 1977 as adjunct professor of chemistry and lecturer in environmental studies, becoming director of the Bowdoin Marine Research Station at Bethel Point the following year.

Ed joined with Professors David Page and the late Dana Mayo to engage in collaborative research in response to a critical need for scientific information on the complex interactions of petroleum and toxic metals in the marine environment. This unique partnership featured the involvement of Bowdoin students who studied the effects of petroleum and other pollutants on marine life. This research generated important scientific data for other researchers, policy makers, the oil industry, and government agencies charged with environmental protection and public safety. It also gave Bowdoin students the opportunity to participate in real-world projects.

The oil-spill research took Ed around the world, and he coauthored more than 70 papers on the environmental impacts of oil spills, from incidents in the Gulf of Maine to the significant releases of oil from the grounding of the Amoco Cadiz on the coast of Brittany in 1978 and the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Ed and his colleagues received support from the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council of Canada, the State of Maine, the American Petroleum Institute, the Mobil Foundation, the ExxonMobil Foundation and many other public and private agencies for their pioneering research. Ed’s professional commitment to environmental protection also extended to public service as well; he served on the Marine Research Board, the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the Research Excellence Partnership Advisory Board of the Maine Science and Technology Commission, and on the Research Advisory Committee of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Maine Maritime Museum and others.
Ed taught in the Environmental Studies Program at Bowdoin for 24 years. He was a natural teacher. He brought his extensive experience, natural curiosity and passion for the environment into the classroom and lab. He engaged young people in his work at many levels. In the field, he brought alive the wonders of the marine environment. In the classroom and lab, he brought his real-world experience to engage the interests of his students. He had many Bowdoin students over the years working with him in the field on real oil-spill studies in Alaska, Puerto Rico and many coastal locations in New England. There are many Bowdoin graduates who are doing what they’re doing now because of their experience with Ed. Upon his retirement in 2001, he was elected an honorary member of the Bowdoin Alumni Association. His colleagues in the chemistry department and his students remember Ed’s many kindnesses and the Labrador retrievers who often accompanied him in Cleaveland Hall.

After his retirement, Ed remained active professionally and focused his energies on travel, his passion for learning as a voracious reader, the outdoors as an avid hunter and engagement with his large network of friends, family and former students. He and Kathie took particular joy in keeping up with former students, being host parents for current Bowdoin students from away and participating in the Society of Bowdoin Friends.

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