Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Judge John L. Gilson was born in New Haven on March 21, 1878, and died in New Haven on November 24, 1944. He was the son of John Williams Gilson and Anne St. Lawrence Gilson. He was graduated from Hillhouse High School in New Haven in 1895, and from Yale College in 1899, with the degree of B. A.
Judge Gilson was graduated from the Yale Law School in 1902. He was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1902 and practiced law for a short time in New York City before returning to New Haven following the death of his father. He was associated in the practice of law with Osborne A. Day, and later with the Honorable E. C. Simpson and Charles W. Birely.
On April 17, 1907, he was married in the Church of the Ascension in New York City to Miss Alice Eleanor Mulgrew, daughter of F. Augustus Mulgrew. Mrs. Gilson and a daughter, Mrs. Paul Donovan, survive.
For several years, Judge Gilson was clerk of the Probate Court for the district of New Haven under the Honorable J. P. Studley, Judge of Probate. In 1912, he was elected Judge of Probate for the district of New Haven on the Republican ticket, and for more than twenty years he was indorsed for re-election by both parties. He had a distinguished career as Judge of Probate. His decisions were affirmed and approved by the Superior Court and the Supreme Court of Errors, and he became a leading authority in Connecticut on probate practice and procedure, constantly being consulted by other Probate Courts. Judge Gilson was always ready to help people in personal consultation. His words of comfort to those in distress were most helpful when matters relating to the settlement of small estates were perplexing. It was interesting and stimulating to sit in the Probate Court and watch men, women and even children standing at the bench before him seeking help in their troubles and to notice the expressions of relief which came over their faces when they left the bench after talking with him. He was for many years president of the Probate Assembly and was a member of the special joint committee on probate practice and procedure of the Judicial Council and State Bar Association of Connecticut. He drafted the act incorporating the Probate Assembly.
Judge Gilson was always interested in civic affairs and especially in the history and traditions of New Haven. For more than twenty years he was president of the New Haven Colony Historical Society and he took a deep interest in that organization. He was chairman of the New Haven committee of the Tercentenary Celebration in 1938. For many years he was major of the Second Company of the Governor's Foot Guard. He was civilian aide to the secretary of war for the State of Connecticut and chairman of the Military Training Camp Association.
In 1915, he became president of Mory's Association, the well known club of Yale graduates in New Haven. Mory's Association after his death passed a resolution, from which the following quotation is taken:
"We know further how many and how broad his interests were: how prodigal he was of his friendship, yet he has left with us an abiding sense that Mory's lay close to his heart; that he found it the most congenial outlet for his great capacity for friendship and his love of Yale."
Judge Gilson was a director of the United Illuminating Company and the Second National Bank of New Haven, and a trustee of the Connecticut Savings Bank. He was connected with and interested in many clubs and associations in New Haven and took an active part in the life of those organizations. He was instrumental in the organization of St. Thomas More Chapel of Yale University, which ministers to the Roman Catholic students of the University. He was a member of the Graduates Club, Quinnipiack Club, Knights of Columbus, New Haven Lawn Club, Yale Club of New York, Army-Navy Club of New York, Hartford Club, American Bar Association, State Bar Association, New Haven County Bar Association, and many other organizations. He was a communicant of St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in New Haven.
Judge Gilson's career and character are well epitomized in the resolutions passed by the board of directors of the Second National Bank of New Haven, from which an extract follows:
"The quality of a man is expressed by the confidence which his fellow citizens place in him. Since 1912 John Gilson has served continuously as Judge of the New Haven District Probate Court, a period longer than that extended to any other since the establishment of the court in 1710. Regardless of party, happy to recognize integrity and capacity, certain to receive justice tempered by understanding, the citizens at every election gave to him their suffrages.
"His loyalty to this office was matched by that which he offered to a vast variety of institutions serving the interest of the public. No man ever sensed more clearly than Judge Gilson the essential truth that a democracy, to survive, must claim the devoted responsibility of the civilian for active participation in affairs; and no man of this community ever met that responsibility more worthily. Without let or stint he gave himself, with all his capacity, to communal undertakings: to the organization in time of peace of a military establishment capable of defending our freedom in time of war; to the development, through our Historical Society, of an appreciation of the values of the heritage left us by our colonial ancestors, and to the rededication of New Haven to those values at our Tercentenary celebration; to the welfare of the Catholic students of Yale ; and to the closer union of town and gown."