Founding officer of the Nevada School of Medicine dies

1/14/2010 - By: Ed Cohen

Philip J. Gillette, one of the founding officers of the University of Nevada School of Medicine and a board member of many community organizations – including the Community Advisory Board of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Sanford Center for Aging – died on Jan. 4 following a long illness. He was 89.

Mr. Gillette was the financial officer of the medical school when it was chartered in 1969 and served as assistant to the dean and as health systems administrator until 1987. He was a lecturer in the College of Business Administration, a member of the task force that developed the Master of Public Health program at UNR, secretary to the School of Medicine/Washoe Medical Center Liaison Planning committee, consultant to medical school clinical chairmen, and faculty council secretary for the School of Medicine.

He also chaired the Governor’s State Health Plan Development Committee and was a board member or officer of the Washoe County Asthma Coalition, the Crisis Call Center, the Northern Nevada Cancer Council and the National Medical Care Seminar Group. He was regent for the American College of Healthcare Executives for Nevada and served as editor of Health Coalition News.

Dr. Ole J. Thienhaus, dean of the School of Medicine, recalled meeting Mr. Gillette soon after he, Thienhaus, arrived at the school in 1995.

“I knew I had discovered a kindred spirit. We shared an interest in the systems aspects of health-care delivery and medical education and spent hours in animated discussions of conceptual and practical issues. The privilege of joining him in teaching senior-year family medicine residents at St. Mary’s (hospital in Reno) will not be forgotten. The gentle, truly kind way he had of conveying feedback as to how my teaching had been received was genuine Phil Gillette.”

Before coming to Nevada, Mr. Gillette served as associate hospital administrator for the University Hospital of the University of Washington, Seattle, from 1956-69. During World War II he was a medical administrative officer in the Air Force.

A fourth-generation Californian, he was born June 27, 1920, in Richmond. His father, Felix Gillette, was from Troy, New York, and worked at various careers throughout his life. His mother, the former Ethel Thompson, was born in California and worked as a buyer in a large department store in San Francisco.

“Phil,” as he was known to all, loved his family, his faith and working. He appeared to be tireless, remaining engaged with many organizations well into his 80s even as he dealt with mounting health issues from cancer.

In the last few years, he served on the HealthInsight advisory council for Nevada and Nevada Board of Directors, chaired the Angel Kiss Foundation Advisory Board, served as a Sanford Center for Aging community advisory board member and chairman, and gave his time as coordinator of the Resident Physician Practice Management course.

After Hurricane Katrina he was instrumental in his church, Trinity Episcopal in Reno, becoming involved with Episcopal Relief & Development, an organization that provides disaster relief and works to combat poverty.

Among other honors, in 2008 he was given the Sanford Center for Aging’s Living the Legacy Award, which recognizes long-time commitment to improving the lives of Nevada elders.

He was preceded in death by wife Geneva (Petersen) Gillette, married Sept. 1, 1946.

He is survived by children Richard Gillette of Seattle and Denise (Gillette) Breslin of Newport Beach, Calif.; and grandchildren Jennifer Gillette, Allison Gillette, Ryan Breslin, Sean Breslin, Paul Breslin, Alex Simmerly and Joel Simmerly.


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