William Gilkerson

Obituary of William Richard Gilkerson

William Richard Gilkerson died at home surrounded by his daughters on May 26, 2019, 23 short days after the passing of his beloved wife, Frances.

Born on June 5, 1926, in Greenville, SC, he was predeceased by his parents, Yancey Sherard Gilkerson and Harriet Bentz Gilkerson; his adoptive parents, William Lancaster and Julia Gilkerson Lancaster (paternal aunt); and his siblings, Yancey S. Gilkerson Jr. and Lydia Gilkerson Dudley.  He is survived by his daughters, Mary B. Gilkerson, Harriet H. Gilkerson, and Julia S. Gilkerson.  He is also survived by two grandchildren, Richard Francis Campbell (Michelle) and Julia La Roche Gilkerson (Chris); and one great-grandchild, William Clarence Campbell. 

He was a graduate of University High (Columbia) and the University of South Carolina with a BS in Chemistry.  He obtained a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Kansas and completed postdoctoral research at California Institute of Technology and the University of South Carolina. He joined the faculty at the University of South Carolina as a Professor of Chemistry in 1955 where he pursued his beloved teaching and research for almost 40 years. His delight in theoretical chemistry problems remained a passion right up until his passing, with hours spent in front of his computer tweaking calculations and models in the pursuit of a better understanding of our universe in its most basic form.

He developed his passion for science, and chemistry in particular, from an early age, sparked in part by a desire to make smoke bombs that were stinkier.  Given his extracurricular science pursuits in high school, his teachers did not anticipate that Richard would amount to much. He joined the Navy straight out of high school with his best friend, Robert Gibbes, in 1944 during the last years of World War II. He served stateside at Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Florida as a radio repairman.  After the war, the GI Bill afforded Richard an opportunity to start his path towards a lifetime of scientific pursuit.

He met his true love in the spring of 1956 and quickly convinced her to get married and spend her life with him.  They spent the rest of their lives together in Columbia making a loving home for their three girls.  He delighted in being a father to his daughters, taking them fishing, to USC basketball games, and, best of all, letting them go to work with him at USC.  He had a wonderful voice for reading bedtime stories to his girls.  When he retired, he volunteered in local elementary schools reading to students as he missed reading to his children.  We girls learned our first swear words while riding in the car as he fumed at inconsiderate drivers, much to Mom’s dismay.  He was a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction, from Tarzan to E.O. Wilson.  When he laughed, his eyes disappeared behind his round cheeks.  In his early years, he was known for a fierce temper triggered by injustices, incompetence and his own failures.  With age, he came to believe that injustice is best addressed by persistent love, ignorance with information and an appreciation for the fallibility, but ultimate goodness of humanity.  He raised his daughters to be independent women, to believe they could accomplish anything they put their minds to.  He delighted in his grandchildren and great-grandchild sharing his love of chocolate and ice cream with them.

He was one of the kindest, most compassionate people, loved for his impish grin and cheerful disposition.  He left a legacy of love, learning, curiosity and a belief that every person, regardless of faith or origin is a human being worthy of compassion.  We will miss him every day for the rest of our lives, but know that his love of this world and all that dwells in it lives on.  In the words of Aaron Freeman, the physicist, “According to the law of conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you are just less orderly.” So to our dear Pops,…Until we meet again….

Thompson Funeral Home is assisting the family. The family will receive family and friends on June 1, 2019 from 12PM-2PM at the family home in Columbia. To honor his memory, the family requests that family and friends make a donation to their favorite charity if they so desire.  Two of his and Mom’s particular favorites were Pets Inc. and Harvest Hope Food Bank. Like Mom, he would also be delighted if small random acts of kindness were done in his memory.

Family and friends may sign the online guest book at www.thompsonsfuneral.com.


To send flowers to the family of William Gilkerson, please visit Tribute Store
Share Your Memory of