William Holt Killam
September 13, 1924 – January 11, 2021
God is good. On January 11, 2021, William H. Killam slipped peacefully from this world at age 96.
Amid the pandemic, his daughter and three adult grandchildren were at his side. After a lifetime of providing comfort and service to others, he was afforded the same for himself.
Born in Rhode Island in 1924, Bill Killam became an Eagle Scout, an avid birder, and enrolled at Harvard University by the time he was 17 – just before the United States entered World War II. Originally enrolled as the class of 1945, his education was interrupted by the war and he enlisted in the U.S Navy, seeing combat in both the Pacific and European theaters. A Quartermaster at age 19, he was on the bridge of his ship off Normandy on D-Day. After the war ended, he resumed his studies, graduating Harvard University with a degree in history and a love for literature and books, especially poetry, that would continue throughout his life.
He married Margaret (Rennie) Jamieson, the love of his life, with whom he had corresponded throughout the war. Bill began a career in business in western New York and then Michigan. After just a few years however, influenced by his war experiences and Rennie, he entered McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago to begin training and educating for a life in the ministry. While still in seminary and serving as a pastor at a small church in Plainwell, Michigan, he led the church in sponsoring a Hungarian refugee after the Soviet invasion of Hungary. His service as a pastor continued in Kalamazoo, Michigan; he was called to lead a congregation and a newly formed church – Westminster Presbyterian. In 1963 he accepted a new challenge and was called to be the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Oak Park, Illinois. During the tumultuous 1960’s and into the 1970’s, he not only led the church, but also provided community leadership in fair housing and civil rights issues. During the Viet Nam War, he was trained in draft counseling in order to advise young men in the community agonizing over their beliefs and duties. At one point, he went as far as to visit a parishioner and his family in Toronto who had taken the step to flee the country rather than fight in the war.
In 1977, after leading the merger of two churches in Oak Park, Bill and Rennie, with their daughter Peggy, moved to Kansas City and Central Presbyterian Church. Once again, he led a church and congregation in changing times until his “retirement” in 1989. He ended his career with 17 years as a part-time parish assistant at the John Knox Kirk in Kansas City where he continued with his teaching, preaching, and comforting service to others. He took loving care of Rennie until her untimely death in 1995 and continued with his lifelong love of birding. Most recently, he engaged in Bible study with his grandchildren. His ashes will be buried in the Kirk’s memorial garden alongside Rennie’s.
The role of a pastor has many aspects. Bill was a community leader, teacher, preacher, advisor, councilor, and comforter. From over 200 weddings to 450 funerals, daily, weekly, and sporadically, he provided guidance, comfort, and peace of mind to thousands. His spirit remains in memories scattered across the country.
Bill Killam is survived by his three children Peggy, Dave, and Bill and his three grandchildren Meg, Hannah, and John. The family plans a memorial service at the Kirk in the months to come when we can safely gather there together.
Donations in his memory can be made to John Knox Kirk Presbyterian Church: https://kckirk.org/