Jim Gillen was born on February 26th, 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a boy he frequently moved around the Northeastern US, but by the time he went to high school he had settled in New York. He first attended Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx on a basketball scholarship, before transferring to Westbury High School to finish his studies. Jim excelled at sports and athletics, and devoted much of his free time to playing for his high school basketball and track and field teams. This passion for physical fitness is one which would stay with Jim for the rest of his life.
After graduating from Westbury High School in 1954, Jim attended C.W. Post College in Brookville, NY where he studied engineering. Following his studies, Jim went on to have a long and successful career as a project engineer, working for well-known companies such as Bechtel, Halliburton, ExxonMobil, Fluor, and M.W. Kellogg. Jim was highly driven and loved his work as an engineer, not least because it allowed him to travel all over the US and the world. In fact, over his decades of work Jim lived in over 14 different countries including: Argentina, Australia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, and Venezuela. It was this love of work and travel which meant that Jim came out of retirement more than once, in search of just one more adventure.
Despite his busy career Jim was very much a family man. On February 15, 1958 Jim married the love of his life Connie Bellavia at St. Killian’s Roman Catholic Church in Farmingdale, NY. Although his work took him all over the world, the center of Jim’s universe was always his wife and their two children, Karen and Brian Gillen. He was a devoted and loving husband and father and will always be remembered as a constant source of strength, support, and unconditional love for his family. In no case was this truer than when it came to his grandchildren: Jackson, Benjamin, Anton, Julian, and Ashley.
After retiring in 2007, Jim put all of his time and energy into being a grandfather, and he was renowned for his stories about growing up in New York, or getting out of sticky situations in New Guinea. Jim was not only known for his storytelling, but also for his sense of humor at family events. He was always a presence in the room, making his jokes and entertaining everyone.
Beyond his family life, Jim was well-known and well liked around the neighborhood in Houston, TX, where he and his family lived for over 40 years. In 2015, Jim and Connie adopted their dog Max from the SPCA. From then on, Jim could always be spotted out walking Max around the neighborhood, stopping to chat with his neighbors and friends around the townhouse complex. Jim and Max made friends wherever they went, especially in the offices of the townhouse manager Marion, where they were always well received.
Jim was a generous man, both with his time and money. If a friend or family member ever needed help or advice Jim was there. He gave generously to local charities, such as the Houston Humane Society, Wounded Warriors and the Salvation Army, always eager to do what he could to help others. Jim also kind and thoughtful, never rushing to judgment. He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word.
Jim Gillen died at 10:09 a.m. on Saturday, January 4th, 2020 at his home in Houston. His life ended peacefully and painlessly while he slept in his own bed. Jim is survived by his wife Connie, their children Brian and Karen, and their grandchildren. He will be fondly remembered, and truly missed by all.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of James Walter Gillen, please visit our floral store.