Final curtain - C. Richard "Dick" Gillespie, founder of TU undergraduate academic theatre major
Professor Emeritus C. Richard “Dick” Gillespie, founder of TU’s undergraduate academic theater major, passed away Saturday, April 2, at Blakehurst Retirement Community.
Professor Emeritus C. Richard “Dick” Gillespie, founder of TU’s undergraduate academic theater major, passed away Saturday, April 2, at Blakehurst Retirement Community. He was 86. Gillespie, who taught in the Department of Theatre Arts for 37 years, retired in 1998.
Gillespie was married to Maravene Loeschke, Towson University’s 13th president, who passed away June 25, 2015.
A Baltimore native, Gillespie earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in theater from the University of Iowa. He received his B.A. degree in theatre from Principia College in Illinois. He served in the U.S. Army as a motion picture cameraman in Korea, earning numerous service medals including the Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Service Medal.
He started in the theater as an actor, but found his life’s work in teaching and directing. Gillespie began his career at Towson State Teachers College in 1961 and in 1963 he founded the undergraduate academic theater major. During his years at Towson he served as director of theatre, vice president and dean of students, and chair of the Department of Theatre Arts. He helped establish the Black Student Union, the Women’s Center, and the innovative MFA in Theatre Arts. He led the president’s task force on computerizing the university.
Gillespie directed more than 50 productions in educational, professional and experimental theaters. He directed plays from the full literature of the theater including the Greek, Shakespearean, Restoration, Medieval, Romantic, and Oriental and Contemporary repertories.
He taught courses in all levels of acting, directing, theater history, dramatic literature, dramatic theory and criticism, playwriting, general study courses in humanities, and creative processes. He also served as TU’s first vice president for student services. He received the 1991 President’s Award for Distinguished Service to the University.
His last two Towson productions were critically acclaimed interpretations of Tennessee Williams’ seldom-produced plays, Clothes For A Summer Hotel and Something Cloudy, Something Clear. For 18 summers he directed summer productions in the Maryland Arts Festival. He also wrote two books: Papa Toussaint, a novel based on the last five years in the life of Toussaint Louverture, the liberator of Haiti; and The James Adams Floating Theatre, the history of a show boat that sailed the Chesapeake Bay and the North Carolina sounds between the world wars and was the model for Edna Ferber’s novel, Show Boat. He wrote works of theatrical history, including a book about the history of railroading in Maryland. He wrote several plays, one of which, Carnivori, won the Stanley Drama Award.
Gillespie’s final performance was in A.L. Gurney’s Love Letters alongside Loeschke, as part of her September 2012 Presidential inauguration celebration at Towson University.
He taught students, most notably Tony Award-winning actor John Glover ’66, Isabelle Monk, Dwight Schultz, Howard Rollins and actor/director Charles Dutton.
“Dick Gillespie had a passion and a dedication,” Glover said recently. “He made me realize what I could do. That’s what you want out of a teacher or a guide.”
The theater was his love ever since he was pressed into a spur-of-the-moment acting role while a college freshman. Before then, he assumed he would be either a journalist or an aeronautical engineer.
“Acting was not a lifelong ambition,” he told the Baltimore Sun in a 1997 interview.
“Maravene Loeschke and Dick Gillespie were friends who helped me in a multitude of academic ways, including major political conflicts in the university,” said longtime colleague and Towson University professor Richard Vatz. “That is the best of the academy: fine people who believe above all in academic freedom regardless of the point of view they are defending.”
Professor Emeritus John Manlove, who joined the theater department in 1967, shared an office with Gillespie.
“Dick was my boss,” Manlove recalled, “but he was also a generous and supportive colleague, a wonderful mentor and—most of all—a dear friend. I’m proud to have known him and worked with him.”
Besides Loeschke, Gillespie was predeceased by his daughter, Joy, and his former wife, Shirley Gillespie-Schwartz. He is survived by his son, Douglas Gillespie, and several grandchildren.
Services are Saturday, April 9 at 1 p.m. at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, Inc., located at 1050 York Road, Towson Md. In honor of his life’s work, memorial gifts can be made to the Towson University Foundation C.R. Gillespie and Maravene S. Loeschke Scholarship Endowment.