Tributes paid to ‘shining light’ of College community
"Jonathan had an extraordinary wit and knack to make anyone laugh when they needed it most"
An ‘intellectually brilliant’ postgraduate student at St John’s has died aged 35.
Jonathan Gilmour was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscle-weakening and wasting condition, when he was seven. He used a wheelchair from the age of 13.
Jonathan came to St John’s as an undergraduate in 2005, graduating with a First in Theology and Religious Studies before taking an outstanding MPhil and progressing, in 2009, to a PhD on the theological and religious language in Joseph B. Soloveitchik's discussion of the possibility of Jewish-Christian dialogue.
Although Jonathan had been socially very active as a St John’s student, he had been absent from College since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic because of the risk posed to him by infection. He continued to write up his PhD dissertation at his family home in Hampshire helped by research assistants.
Professor Jason Robinson, Fellow of St John’s and one of Jonathan’s former tutors, said: “Jonathan was a shining light in our College community for more than a decade and a half. He was intellectually brilliant with an extraordinary wit and knack to make anyone laugh when they needed it most.
“As his illness progressed, creating ever-increasing difficulties in his everyday life, Jonathan continued to amaze all who knew him by his increasing passion for his research work and his desire to develop ideas beyond the scope of his PhD.
“He was a dear friend to a great number of students at St John’s over the years, and someone you could rely on for steadfast support and wisdom. He never complained about his health, but took every opportunity to bring joy and smiles into people’s lives. He will be dearly missed by many.”
Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a genetic condition that usually only affects boys – around 2,500 boys and young men are living with the life-limiting condition in the UK. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy cannot currently be cured. In 2021, Jonathan was interviewed for the College’s magazine about his life and studies.
“Jonathan continued to amaze all who knew him by his increasing passion for his research work and his desire to develop ideas beyond the scope of his PhD”
Dr Matthias Dörrzapf, a Fellow of St John’s and also one of Jonathan’s former tutors, said: “Jonathan has been an amazing student, researcher, colleague and friend. He was always very cheerful and had a positive attitude - he has been a role model to many of us. Academically, he achieved outstanding results and his research is very well respected and highly regarded.
“Over more than 16 years, Jonathan has been an essential and inspirational part of our College community. College events will not be the same without his presence and without his amazing humour. We feel very lucky that Jonathan had chosen us for his education and for a large part of his life, and we are proud to have been part of his educational and life journey. We will miss him very much.”
Jonathan is survived by his parents Brian and Angela and two sisters. His beloved dog Uri will continue to live with his family in Hampshire.
In 2015, Jonathan shared his life story for the BBC Lifeline Appeal to raise awareness of Muscular Dystrophy UK and the impact the muscle-wasting condition can have on the lives of individuals and their families.
- Jonathan’s funeral will take place on 16 May 2022 and a memorial service will be held for him in St John’s College Chapel in due course. He died on Friday 15 April 2022.