Elvin Jeffrey Gilman ’40, who established Bowdoin’s Dean Paul Nixon “Pat on the Back” fund and initiated the revitalization of Portland’s Old Port, died on February 25, 2010, at his home in South Portland, Maine.
He was born on Nov. 27, 1917, in Hampton, Va., and prepared for college at Ellsworth (Maine) High School, where he excelled in academics and played baseball and football. He attended the University of Maine for one year, then transferred to Bowdoin, where he again played baseball and football and was a member of Zeta Psi fraternity. After graduating, he enlisted in the Navy Reserve, and served throughout World War II aboard the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Franklin Delano Roosevelt with the Sixth Fleet in the Pacific theater. He was awarded a Theater Ribbon and a Battle Star, and attained the rank of lieutenant commander. He returned to Maine after the war and began a career in the insurance industry. He became president of Dow & Pinkham, and in 1962 bought the Old Printer’s Exchange Buildings on Exchange Street in Portland, which at the time was a run-down section of the city. When his 13-year-old daughter complained about the appearance of the building, he completely renovated the historic building, sparking a revitalization of the neighborhood. He retired in 1971 and sold the building the following year. He was an avid skier, sailor, and conservationist. In the early 1960s, he helped kick off the massive development of the Sugarloaf ski resort by building the first ski chalet in Carrabasset Valley. He and his wife gave Carver’s Island to the State of Maine so that it would be preserved as a bird sanctuary. In 1980, he established the Dean Paul Nixon Discretionary Fund, what he called the “Pat on the Back” fund, in honor of his mentor at Bowdoin. The fund is used to satisfy students’ diverse needs, which have included, among other things, art supplies, a plane ticket home to attend to a family emergency, and warm clothes for a first-year student from Kenya. He was a member of the First Parish Church and taught at the church school for years. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Barbara Drummond Gilman; a son, Jeffrey Drummond Gilman; a daughter, Grace (Gilly) Drummond; and two grandsons. He was predeceased by a brother, Horton Pfeil Gilman.