Web Feature Posted September 18, 2014
Remembering Jennifer Johnson Gilnett
By Jeffrey Overstreet '94, Response Contributing Editor
Jennifer Johnson Gilnett
The Seattle Pacific University community has suffered a great and sudden loss.
Jennifer Johnson Gilnett ’81, director of University Communications and senior editor of Response, died Thursday, September 11, 2014, after a swift and severe illness at the age of 56. She was beloved to SPU as an alumna, a staff member, a leader, a friend — and beloved most of all to her husband of 29 years, SPU Fine Arts Marketing Associate and Admissions Counselor Kim Gilnett.
An English major, Jennifer Johnson served the University first as a work-study student employee. She was hired by the University as a full-time staff member even before her graduation and served SPU for 32 years, with only a two-year break to pursue graduate study in English at the University of Washington.
In 1987 she became UC’s associate director, learning from then Director John Glancy. He praised her as “an experienced grammarian” and a writer with “a good sense of shades of meaning” when her colleagues chose her as Exempt Staff Member of the Year in 1997. If you worked for Jennifer, you consulted her on everything from messaging to photography to punctuation; you knew the differences between en dashes and em dashes; and you knew the power of “the Oxford comma.” At the same time, she contributed high-level strategic direction for all of the University’s communications. Her embrace of innovative communication and technologies meant she was always thinking of new ways to tell the SPU story.
Since 1984, Jennifer’s most personal project has been Response, developing it from a newspaper-style newsletter to an influential and award-winning magazine. Today Response brings SPU stories to approximately 60,000 alumni, parents, and friends of SPU in all 50 U.S. states and 87 foreign countries, reaching even more readers online.
In 2000, she received Seattle Pacific's President’s Award for Excellence. And in 2002, she became UC’s director. She served as the “gatekeeper” for campus communications requests for more than a decade, fine-tuning just about everything: the SPU website, magazine photo captions, event programs, advertisements, campus banners, messages signed by SPU administrators, and more.
In the last several years, UC collected more awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) than any other institution in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. She aspired to earn SPU a CASE Grand Crystal Award, the honor given to the year’s most outstanding work. She fulfilled that dream in 2009, with SPU Art Director Dale Kegley and editor Julia Siemens, for SPU’s innovative etc magazine.
Jennifer is survived by her husband, Kim Gilnett ’74; her father, Ron Johnson ’56; her stepmother; two brothers; two sisters-in-law; and a niece. She was preceded in death by her mother, Mary Lou Sylvester Johnson Montgomery ’56.
Kim and Jennifer Gilnett at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy, December 2012.
I cannot express enough gratitude for Jennifer’s guidance as my boss and as my editor for more than a decade. She so passionately embraced, demonstrated, and celebrated Seattle Pacific University’s spirit and vision of “engaging the culture” and reflecting the glory of the Gospel to the world.
She did this by telling stories of Seattle Pacific students, alumni, faculty, and staff through countless communications produced by SPU’s University Communications team each year. She preferred to give others the spotlight. Thus, many who were blessed by her work never knew much about her.
While she worked relentlessly, she was slow to complain and swift to celebrate. You could always tell if she was in a meeting, even from outside the door; all you had to do was listen for her contagious, joyful laughter.
After violence struck SPU’s campus on June 5, 2014, Jennifer wrote about how the event affected her in what turned out to be her final “From the Senior Editor” column in the Summer 2014 Response. The University’s “darkest hour” brought out the best in Jennifer.
SPU was her home, but not her whole world: She was an Anglophile at heart and traveled with Kim whenever possible to England, Italy, and elsewhere. Once, in an airport, a stranger made her day by mistaking her for her favorite actress, Emma Thompson. She loved mystery novels and detective shows, like the BBC drama Prime Suspect. (She called the show’s detective, played by Helen Mirren, a “role model.”) And together, Jennifer and Kim were blessed with gifts of hospitality and culinary chemistry. Trays of hors d'oeuvres, multi-course meals — everything they served was extraordinary.
Which reminds me — one of Jennifer’s favorite movies was Babette’s Feast. It’s about a gourmet chef who serves a humble religious community, people who expect only bread, fish, and broth. Babette, who is secretly a millionaire, spends her entire fortune to bless them with an extravagant feast of her best work.
That’s the spirit in which Jennifer Gilnett served, and served through, Seattle Pacific. She gave everything she had to serve up feasts of beauty, imagination, and excellence. She was our “Babette.” When we follow her example, we will carry her SPU legacy forward.
I can almost see her editing this remembrance with her impossibly elegant handwriting. She’d ask me to cut half of it, or to write about somebody else, for the glory of God.
In lieu of flowers, gifts to support the newly formed Jennifer and Kim Gilnett Scholarship Endowment are gratefully received. Please designate your gift in that name.
Video: The Celebration of the Life of Jennifer Gilnett, posted live Tuesday, September 23, 2014, at First Free Methodist Church, Seattle, Washington.
Anne Hagerman Wilcox ’90, MAT ’02
Monday, February 2, 2015, at 10:50 p.m.
My father and I were retracing his WWII steps in 1994 and attending a C.S. Lewis Conference when Kim Gilnett entered our lives. What adventures we had as Kim honored my veteran father by taking us to incredible WWII sites! So, at first, Jennifer was the precious wife of my friend, Kim. Through the following years, the “Kim & Jennifer Hospitality Team” taught me wondrous lessons about friendship. Goodness — such extravagant love they always gave!
Then Jennifer became the Response editor who asked me to write about hope when, through a deeply personal betrayal, I had lost hope. Dear Jennifer, your masterful gift was using the pen — not just to inform or challenge — but to heal. Whether you held the pen or you invited us to hold it, you always had transformation in mind.
Missing you is an impossible ache; your incomparable legacy holds the only hope for taking the next steps. And we will take them in honor of your life . . .
Greg Lund ’84
Monday, December 29, 2014, at 6:08 a.m.
Jennifer interviewed me for my first real job after I graduated from SPU. I was a creative writer, but had never used a computer, and knew little about professional life or real journalism. In my interview, I’d forgotten to button my button-down collar. She still gave me a chance, and also gave me my inner compass as a writer. When I got too metaphoric, she brought me back to the facts. Today, as a pastor, that influence is still with me when I write sermons. With all her professionalism, I also remember her laugh and her playfulness. Once, as a staff, we were playing “name that tune.” A song would start, and the first to guess the title would win. It usually took a few bars, but in one song, after just a few notes, Jennifer shouted, “I am woman!” Yes, she was. And we loved her for it. Hear her roar.
G. Roger Schoenhals ’61
Friday, December 26, 2014, at 11 a.m.
In the 1980s I worked at SPU as director of the Foundation and as chief planned giving officer. During that time, Jennifer helped me fashion a newsletter about planned giving for SPU that increased visibility and inspired new gifts to the university. In 1990 I left SPU to launch an international publication called Planned Giving Today. Jennifer agreed to assist me on her own time as my copy editor. The popularity of the new publication soared and it is still going strong as the leading monthly periodical in charitable gift planning.
During the 20 years Jennifer and I worked on PGT, she read every word (more than a million!), corrected numerous mistakes, and provided countless restatements to clarify meaning. It was for her a “hobby” outside her normal workload, a means to assist a friend and to impact thousands of charitable gift planners across North America. She was such a great friend and colleague. I miss her sense of humor, commitment to excellence, and professional skills. I still find it difficult to accept the fact she is gone.
Kristine Bourland Brown ’83
Saturday, December 6, 2014, at 8:31 p.m.
Every time Response arrived I saw Jennifer’s kind smiling face and thought, “I need to say ‘thanks’ again and check in.” Like others I grieve that I waited. She was the best boss and colleague I ever had from the time she hired me as a student worker and not-so-fast typist for the news service from 1980–1983 to when I returned as a co-worker from 1986 to 1994. She supervised with humor and edited with care.
It was a privilege to write for her — I even had dreams that I returned to work for her and felt so glad to be back. Those wonderful times in University Relations shaped me as a writer and as a person. Many condolences and heartfelt prayers to Kim and the University Relations staff on her sudden passing.
Joyce Quiring Erickson, Emerita Professor of English and former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
Thursday, October 16, 2014, at 10:59 a.m.
I only learned of Jennifer’s death recently since I was traveling. She was one of the best — perhaps the best — student I had the privilege of teaching. In every issue of Response, Jennifer’s talent and graciousness was evident. I feel a profound sense of loss.
Marj Johnson, former Senior Vice President, University Relations
Tuesday, September 30, 2014, at 2:49 p.m.
Jennifer and I developed a close relationship as SPU colleagues in University Relations and even more as friends for over 30 years. SPU has made great gains in visibility and clarity of our vision and mission,in part, because Jennifer knew how to tell authentic stories of alumni, faculty, staff, and students who embodied our vision for engagement that changed the world. As so many have said, she was a brilliant writer and editor. I will always remember her gifts as a leader and strategist. And, no one could match her work ethic. On occasion, I told her that not everything she did had to be perfect.
I will miss Jennifer most of all for her friendship. She had the ability to be both professional colleague and true friend. Quite a balancing act, and she did it effortlessly. I am not yet ready to think of the world without Jennifer in it. I prefer the memories of who she was to me and to those around her.
Wes Johnson ’92
Tuesday, September 23, 2014, at 11:25 p.m.
Jennifer is my second cousin, a treasured daughter of my father’s cousin. Both our dads grew up in the Skokomish Valley near Shelton, WA, attended Seattle Pacific, and served as educators. Jennifer and I grew up visiting our respective grandparents who throughout their lifetimes lived just down the road from one another in the Skokomish Valley. Her grandfather, Arthur, and my grandfather, Arvid, worked and worshipped and served the Lord in close proximity to one another.
Jennifer and I were classmates at SPU, and I deeply enjoyed getting to know the beautiful and accomplished woman that so many have come to love and appreciate through all of these years. We join the prayers of many for Kim and for Jennifer’s parents and loved ones. I found this prayer of great comfort at the passing of my father, and I offer it to you who love and miss our Jennifer:
“Come now, live in us. Let us stay in You, since if we be all in You, we cannot be far from one another, though some be in heaven and some upon the earth.”
(Found in Celtic Daily Prayer, adapted from a passage in David Elginbrod by George MacDonald)
Michelle Golay ’92
Tuesday, September 23, 2014, at 8:06 p.m.
I was blessed to work while a junior and senior in University Relations (1990-92). It was in the days of the dream team (John, Jennifer, Connie, Dale, Clint, Susan, and Jackie ... hope I’m not leaving anyone out). Jennifer always embodied class and poise. She set timeless standards of excellence. She was a woman I wanted — and want — to emulate. I’m grateful to have known her and have learned from her.
For Kim, I’m heartbroken. And, really, in disbelief. I feel challenged now to pursue my endeavors with more excellence!
Rob Wall, Paul T. Walls Professor of Scripture and Wesleyan Studies
Tuesday, September 23, 2014, at 8:36 a.m.
I didn't know Jennifer well but she impressed me every time we met, even incidentally, by her graces, her personal self-confidence, and her professional competence — her desire to “get it right.” I think we all will miss that too, not only because Jennifer elevated the people around her but also everything that engaged her attention, including this place and its faculty.
Debra Drake Hernandez ’80
Monday, September 22, 2014, at 7:35 p.m.
You always think there will be more time ... time to make a call, to send an email, to reconnect. And then, suddenly, there is no more time. I am shocked and saddened at Jennifer’s sudden passing. Although we had lost touch over the past few years, she was a dear friend from my days at SPU and when we were starting out as young adults.
All of my best memories from those days include Jennifer. I still keep a picture of Jennifer and her bridesmaids (I was one) on my dresser. She was smart, and beautiful, and kind, and so much fun. So many wonderful memories that I will treasure always. Reading the lovely tributes to Jennifer’s grace, kindness, and passion for her work reminds me why I loved her as a friend and help to ease the sadness. My heart goes out to Kim, and to Jennifer’s family. You have my daily prayers as you go about coping with this great loss. We mourn, but not as those who have no hope. I know that Jennifer is in the arms of our Lord; all is well. And I will see her again. For now, tears and sorrow and laughter, and her memory lives on in my heart and in all who knew and loved her. All my love, dear one.
Monday, September 22, 2014, at 4:57 p.m.
I had the extreme pleasure of working with Jennifer and her staff in UC for over 20 years. It was an honor for myself, and the company I worked for, Valco Graphics, to be the only printer of Response and etc. The appreciation and loyalty I received from Jennifer was extremely rare in today's world, The hardest part of leaving my job was the thought of not getting to work with Jennifer and her staff at SPU. I cherish the fond memories I have and will never forget her kindness.
Robin Farrar Maass ’81
Monday, September 22, 2014, at 1:41 p.m.
I am completely stunned by this loss of my dear friend, SPU roommate, maid of honor at my wedding (as I was at hers), travel companion, sharer of a thousand cups of tea and late night talks, brilliant writer, and beautiful woman. I am so grateful to God for the lunch we shared just last month — I had no idea it would be our last. I am heartbroken for Kim, for Ron and Cynthia, and for Jennifer's brothers and their families, as well as her namesake niece — and for myself.
Jennifer and I met in a 10th grade math class, went on to SPU together, and shared many moments for which I'll always be grateful. I cannot bring myself to believe that we won't grow old together. I am in Jennifer’s beloved England at the moment and so am deeply sad that I won't be able to grieve and to celebrate a life well-lived tomorrow with Kim and Jennifer’s family at her memorial. I send love and prayers to everyone there. Know that I will be watching the live streamed video and so wishing I could be there with you. I laid a yellow rose on the shrine of St Frideswide in Christ Church cathedral in Oxford today, and lit candles for Jennifer, for Kim, and for myself and all those who loved her and must now find a way to live without her. Rest in peace, my dear friend. With all my love.
Julia Siemens, Editor etc Magazine
Monday, September 22, 2014, at 9:47 a.m.
Jennifer was lavishly generous. When it was her turn to bring morning treats to our office, she brought scones from Macrina. At our annual office Christmas parties, she bought presents for all of the children. When N.T. Wright came to campus recently, I told Jennifer how much my mother had enjoyed hearing him speak. A few days later, Jennifer presented me with a copy of his book on the Psalms to give to my mother, someone who Jennifer had met once or twice.
I learned so much about grace from watching Jennifer, both in how she presented herself and how she treated others. I never heard her say negative things about people, and she was always quick to let my mistakes go. I mourn the fact that there won't be new things to learn from Jennifer, but I know that I will remember her whenever I eat a scone, or watch Call the Midwife, or celebrate my daughter’s birthday, which they share. But mostly, I will remember the grace that she heaped on others, and strive for that in my own life. Simply knowing her was a gift.
Monday, September 22, 2014, at 5:42 a.m.
Jennifer was an amazing person. We were colleagues when she was still in the work study program in University Relations. Even then, it was clear that she was a remarkable professional, a warm and insightful person, and a caring and committed believer. She had a calming presence and displayed wisdom and maturity beyond her years. Her committment to SPU — and her many, many years of service there — speak to her dedication and loyalty. She embodied everything that SPU strives to be. Please know that everywhere in the world there are people who remember Jennifer and will keep the memory of her alive. At this moment, above all, my heart goes out to Kim. There are no words for such a loss.
Connie McDougall ’97
Friday, September 19, 2014, at 7:36 p.m.
We were supposed to get together the week before so she could give me a book she thought I’d love. We texted back and forth, planned one meeting, breakfast, dinner after the next, but life kept getting in the way. Get It? Life got in the way. Until there was no more time to have lunch, or meeting, or a breakfast. Until there was no more time. Thankfully, Kim gave me the book she wanted me to read and it’s sitting here. But I cannot read it yet. I will, but not now.
She was one of my BFFs, best friends forever, and we thought we had forever. Or at least 20 or 30 years. But no. Like you all, I cannot believe this has happened. I'm angry. I’m so furious! Who is in charge here? What did my prayers mean? Sorry, but this kind of thing just sends me into an existential froth. I’ll get over it, especially reading Jeff’s beautiful words, of all she was. But it's the “was” that just makes me crazy.
Just one story: We went to see the movie Gravity in 3D and we were in a place I couldn’t get out of easily and I was worried I might feel dizzy, sick, so after hearing me whine about this for the first five minutes, she leaned over and said, with great patience, “Just close your eyes.” Oh. Yeah. Duh. I think that was advice for the rest of my life when I'm in a froth. Just close your eyes. And be with the silence of God. Jennifer, my girl, a natural blonde, unlike me, I love you. I miss you. I will read your book. Love, Connie
Lisa Van der Veen
Friday, September 19, 2014, at 7:15 p.m.
Jennifer was an amazing woman, the kind every little girl should have in her life. I was truly blessed ... Jennifer was my godmother, and I have looked up to her since before I can remember. Her strength of character and innate goodness shone through so strongly. I can hardly believe she is gone, so suddenly and much too soon. It has, however, made me smile to read how many other lives she touched along her way. And to her other half, Kim, my heart goes out to you.
Debra Sequeira, Dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities
College of Arts and Sciences
Friday, September 19, 2014, at 11:10 a.m.
Jennifer’s passing is a stunning loss to our SPU community and beyond. She was elegant, always perfectly coiffed, and a model of grace under pressure. Prayers will continue for our dear colleague and friend Kim, as well as for his extended family. “Even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”
Annie Mae Platter '12
Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 10:49 p.m.
I was the editorial intern for three years in UC and she never knew that she set a bar for a management style I have yet to see and strive to be. She set high expectations and with encouragement and grace challenged her staff in a manner that made everyone who knew her both love and respect her. Jennifer was in a million words, a thousand moments, hundreds of ways ... however, words this side of heaven are not enough.
Ava Van '12
Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 9:55 p.m.
Shocked. Saddened. In disbelief — to learn about the tremendous loss of Jennifer Gilnett. She was a humble and brilliant leader; an incredibly gifted writer; and a deeply committed Christian who brought joy to everyone she touched, including me. I will never forget the two years I worked with her as an intern. To my UC family, hang in there. I mourn with you ...
Wendy Worrall Redal '83
Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 8:12 p.m.
Such a huge and stunning loss. I was fortunate to know Jennifer when I was a student at SPU in the early 1980s and afterward, when I worked for a couple years post-graduation in the Development office. And it was a pleasure to stay in touch periodically over the years, when I'd send updates for Response.
Her long and influential stamp on that publication turned it into the richest and most thought-provoking alumni magazine I've ever come across. I am always excited to receive it in the mail, to get caught up on the multitude of ways that SPU students, faculty, and alumni are making a genuine difference in the world. It has been central to my continuing support for my alma mater, as every issue is a showcase for all that is special and impressive about SPU, and Jennifer had the great gift of making it so. She is certainly a testament to the impact that one individual can have.
I’m so very sorry for your loss, Kim — I trust that you two lived more in the abbreviated life you had together than most people are fortunate to have in twice that time ... though I wish so very much that more years were ahead for you together. They will be, soon — on that day that our faith promises, when you will once more see ‘face to face.’ All my love and sympathy to the SPU community who was touched so deeply by Jennifer’s life and work.
Janet Blumberg, Professor of English Emerita
Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 8:11 p.m.
My heart goes out especially to Kim Gilnett, Jennifer’s beloved husband, at this time of immeasurable loss. I am shocked and grieved to hear this unexpected news about one of the most glowing students we have ever had here at Seattle Pacific over the years. She was an absolutely outstanding student in the humanities and her work thereafter for SPU communications has always been so superb.
I echo the comments about the hospitality of Jennifer and Kim and regard myself as having been lucky to have known such a loving couple — a wonderful image of Christ’s love to the world. Kim, our thoughts and prayers are with you!
Greg Asimakoupoulos '74, SPU Alumni Board
Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 8:07 p.m.
A Grief Observed: Our colleague moved the other day before we had a chance to say how much the Lord had used her in our lives. (I hope she knew.) She found the wardrobe door ajar and heard a voice call from afar. And Jennifer's response (as always) honored Aslan’s roar. Her present is our future hope. And, thus, though grieving we can cope. The shadowlands through which we pass in time will find us home.
Christine Chaney, Professor of English
Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 7:52 p.m.
Words aren’t enough to convey the light and calm and peace and steadiness of Jennifer's presence among us. She was a truly remarkable woman and will be much missed even by those of us with who knew her only through the occasional happy working relationship. Blessings, peace, and comfort to those (beloved family, colleagues, and dear friends) whose loss is much more profound than that.
Greg Fritzberg, Professor of Education
Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 3:02 p.m.
Jennifer supervised a staff that transformed a journal I edited for 6 years while here, called Curriculum in Context, and she was such a talented person. I can’t say I knew her well, but I feel the loss. Peace to her family.
Martin Stillion ’92
Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 2:50 p.m.
I worked for Jennifer as a freelancer. She was kind, generous, encouraging, but also provided firm and uncompromising guidance. I’m shocked and saddened beyond expression to learn of her passing, but I’ll tell you this: She made a difference, both professionally and personally. My condolences to all who are touched by her loss, and that’s a lot of people.
Margaret Brown, Associate Professor of Psychology
Thursday, September 18, 2014, at 2:47 p.m.
Jennifer’s sudden passing is a tremendous loss to us all. Her warmth and talents were such a blessing to the SPU community. She will be greatly missed. Kim — you and Jennifer’s loved ones are in my prayers! May the God of all comfort pour out His love upon you.
Holly Harris Wood ’07
Monday, September 15, 2014, at 9:56 a.m.
Jennifer gave me many gifts in the short time we worked together [in University Communications]. She was easy to like, I think, because she laughed so easily and was so hard to offend. She took me out for a goodbye lunch in May at the Hilltop Ale House, and we didn't share beers (hello, she was no dummy), but it felt like we did. Essentially she helped me give myself permission to want to be a writer, and to just sit up and make a choice to be a writer. Whether or not I fit the profile, she told me I had potential and that I better well live up to it. When somebody with her talent and panache and staying power says that kind of thing, it makes a good dent.
Philip Eaton, SPU President Emeritus
Saturday, September 13, 2014, at 9:15 a.m.
She was talented, so conscientious, hardworking to a fault, but as well so deeply committed to excellence in her work for the good of SPU. I told Kim the other night that one of the great privileges of my life was working with Jennifer for almost twenty years. She got it. She executed it. She provided the magic we needed. And of course each of you played such key roles in carrying out the work, masterfully working with Jennifer and Marj [Johnson, senior VP] to building one of the finest communications programs in the country (literally).
We will miss her, won’t we? Miss her terribly. SPU will miss her. Sharon and I mourn her loss deeply. We are praying now for Kim as he moves through this time of terrible grief. Of course we seek a peace beyond understanding, not to ignore the grief, but to know Jennifer now rests in the comforting arms of our Lord.
Frank Spina, Professor of Old Testament
Friday, September 12, 2014, at 11:43 a.m.
This is a terrible loss. Jennifer was a brilliant, competent, gracious, and classy woman. I have known her since she was a student of mine. Everything she did came under the category of excellent. I am just heartbroken.
Billy Vo, Director of the Asian American Ministry Program
Friday, September 12, 2014, at 11:23 a.m.
I am grieving the loss of Jennifer Gilnet as well — her illness seemed to happen so quickly and suddenly. As a colleague who had the privilege of working with her directly on a few projects, I deeply appreciated Jennifer’s support, and leadership in University Communications. She was a fabulous partner to us, and will be deeply missed.
My prayers are also with Kim, and our friends in UC as well.
Ed Smyth, Professor of Educational Ministry
Friday, September 12, 2014, at 8:17 a.m.
I am just so sad to hear this news. Kim and Jennifer have been such incredible parts of our community over so many years. My prayers are certainly with Kim and the families.