David J. Gillis, urologist, model train collector

October 09, 2008|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN

Dr. David J. Gillis, a retired Baltimore urologist and nationally known expert and collector of American Flyer model electric trains, died of cancer Oct. 2 at his Lutherville home. He was 70.

Dr. Gillis, who was the son and grandson of physicians, was born in Baltimore and raised in Guilford. He was a 1956 graduate of Loyola High School and earned a bachelor's degree from Loyola College in 1960.

After earning his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1965, he completed a residency in urology at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington.

In 1970, Dr. Gillis established his practice on York Road at the Beltway just north of Towson, where he saw patients until retiring in 1988.

In addition to being an instructor in urology at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine, he was on the staff of St. Joseph Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

His professional memberships included the American College of Surgeons and the American Urological Association.

Dr. Gillis began collecting American Flyer S-gauge trains in 1946, the year they were introduced by the A. C. Gilbert Co. of New Haven, Conn.

"After all, I've been afflicted with a passion for American Flyer for about as long as S-gauge has been around. And I'm still under the spell," Dr. Gillis told Classic Trains magazine in a 2007 interview.

In 1967, Dr. Gillis married Katherine Macatee, who was supportive of and later became interested in her husband's hobby.

Their four children also went to "work" on their father's railroad, which occupied most of the basement of their Chapel Ridge Road home.

Dr. Gillis and his family eventually completed an 18-by-38-foot layout on which he was able to operate 12 trains at once.

"He collected hundreds of engines and thousands of cars," said Mrs. Gillis, who was responsible for building all the model railroad's scenery.

"When he wanted to expand the layout and add on to the house, I only agreed to it if he let me have a library on the second floor," she said. "I got my library."

When model railroad publisher and author Bruce Greenberg published his Greenberg's Guide to American Flyer S Gauge during the 1980s and early 1990s, he used much of Dr. Gillis' American Flyer equipment and layout as a backdrop for his book.

"I called him up a few years ago to ask him some questions on Flyer and found him to be most cordial and accessible. He had great knowledge on the subject of Gilbert's trains," said James A. Genthner, a Timonium rail enthusiast.

"Flyer people tend to be exceptionally loyal to their favorite trains, and the debate between the realism of two-rail Flyer versus three-rail Lionel still rages as hotly as it did 50 years ago," he said.

Dr. Gillis, who continued working and operating his layout until his death, enjoyed opening his home to other Flyer fans and families who gathered to watch his trains roll through the towns and cities he and his family had built.

He was an active member of the Train Collectors Association.

Dr. Gillis also enjoyed traveling by train and visiting railroad museums, especially those that offered operating vintage rail equipment.

He was also a Civil War buff and enjoyed visiting historic battlefields.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Monday at the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Mount Washington.

Also surviving are two sons, Dr. Robert C. Gillis of Towson and James Alexander Gillis of Lutherville; a daughter, Kathleen Gillis Swartz of Sherman Oaks, Calif.; a brother, John J. Gillis of Philadelphia; and a sister, Eileen Francke of Richmond, Va. A daughter, Susan Boyle Gillis, died in 1970.

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