Rev. Robert Rolfe Gilson, 98, longtime Episcopal priest


The Rev. Robert Rolfe Gilson, a longtime Episcopal priest, died of heart and lung failure Monday at Pickersgill Retirement Community in Towson. He was 98.

Born in Concord, Mass., he was the son of an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Roy Rolfe Gilson, who had served in churches in New England as well as in the diocese of Easton, including St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Salisbury. He would fondly recall serving as an acolyte as a boy, swinging the incense burner for his father, family members said.

He was ordained a deacon at St. Peter's in 1934 and in 1935 was ordained a priest at St. Paul's by the Sea in Ocean City. He served parishes in Delaware, Connecticut and the Eastern Shore, including St. Mary Anne's in North East. In 1953, he joined the Church of the Holy Apostles in Arbutus, where he would serve 25 years before retiring.

"He was very kind, very gentle, very shepherding in his ministry," recalled a daughter, Barbara G. Yeager of Ellicott City.

Under Mr. Gilson's guidance, the church grew steadily and gained parish status in 1959. In November 1959, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the church, the first church-owned rectory was completed and Mr. Gilson became the first rector. In 1965, a classroom addition was built to accommodate the growing church school.

"He was well-read, and he could recite poems to you," said a son-in-law, Ken Yeager. Mr. Yeager said Mr. Gilson was well-known for sprinkling memorable expressions into his sermons. One, Mr. Yeager recalled, was, "Forgiveness is the scent the violet sheds on the heel that just crushed it."

Mr. Gilson devoted much time to visiting hospital patients, shut-ins, those in need of counseling and the grief-stricken, his family said.

While at Holy Apostles, he also served as the Episcopal chaplain at Pickersgill. He continued in that role after his retirement until 1993. After retiring, he also was associate priest at St. Thomas' Church, Garrison Forest. He moved to Pickersgill in 1984.

He was a longtime Orioles fan and enjoyed taking in games at Memorial Stadium.

His wife, the former Muriel Warren, whom he married in 1936, died in 1984.

A Memorial Eucharist of Thanksgiving will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Church of the Holy Apostles, 4922 Leeds Ave., Arbutus.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Carol G. Hjortsberg of Millersville; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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