Clarence Percy Gilmore Jr.
February 8, 1926 – November 3, 2020
C. P. (KEN) GILMORE
Ken Gilmore (officially Clarence Percy Gilmore, Jr.), age 94, of Old Saybrook, died at 11:00 p.m. on November 2, 2020, though the death was officially confirmed in the early hours of November 3. He was at home; his wife, Elaine, was by his side; his son, Rob, was nearby, as was their treasured friend, Margarita Barberi. Ken had dealt stoically with declining health for several years.
Professionally, Mr. Gilmore enjoyed a successful and diverse career, mostly in broadcast and magazine journalism, culminating in the editorship of Popular Science Magazine. As a magazine writer and TV journalist he won many awards. As a young man, he worked in radio and TV and played clarinet and saxophone in dance bands. Through his long life he mastered an amazing repertory of avocations that kept him challenged, interesting, and great fun to know.
Mr. Gilmore was born February 8, 1926, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Clara (Cobb) Gilmore and Clarence Percy Gilmore, Sr. His father, a cattleman, died of pneumonia when Ken was 11. His mother worked as a stenographer (eventually becoming personnel director) at the Carville National Leprosarium, which was near their farm in Carville, LA.
Ken developed a passion for music while a student at Catholic High in Baton Rouge, and entered Louisiana State University at age 16 as a music major—specifically a composition major. He was too immature for the freedom college offered, and found that talking about life, art, philosophy, religion, etc., with friends over beers was far more interesting than his classes, which he seldom attended. (With maturity came true regret over this irresponsible behavior, which he considered a blot on his character.)
At age 17, with WWII raging, Mr. Gilmore quit college and joined the Navy. After boot camp in the South, he was sent to Chicago for training as a radar technician. Ken likened that year-long course to an “electrical engineering degree without the liberal arts”. He loved Chicago: its symphony, opera, and theater (“Military personnel got free tickets to everything!”), its bars (“No one in uniform could pay for his own drink!”), and the pretty girls who swooned over young dudes in uniform. This southern boy even loved snow.
During the war, Ken was the radar technician on a ship in the Pacific Theater. With much down time he read, and read, and read—advancing the liberal arts and philosophical side of his education. His ship was stationed off Japan, waiting for the order to invade, when the two atomic bombs were dropped, precipitating the end of the war. He was on active duty from 1943 to 1946.
After the war, Mr. Gilmore returned to Baton Rouge, where he launched his long and distinguished media career. He began as a night announcer on a local radio station, then got his FCC First Class Radio Telephone Operator License—and was soon working both the “talent” and technical side of radio. Ken also became an excellent cook, instructed by a friend and colleague who had apprenticed at a New Orleans restaurant. He got his pilot’s license and bought a small plane, which he loved to fly.
In addition, Mr. Gilmore dedicated himself to advancing the voting rights of Blacks—an unpopular endeavor among his class in the Deep South of the late ’40s. He was convinced that if Blacks experienced no barriers to voting (of which there are many), the problem of inequality would be solved. He remained committed to the ideal of equality for all before the law throughout his life.
Mr. Gilmore’s radio career soon took him to Lake Charles, LA, then Galveston, TX, where he was both chief engineer and program director at KGBC. When television came along he jumped into this emerging medium. He also became passionate about golf and hit a hole-in-one at a Galveston golf course.
He moved to New Orleans in 1955, where he was the anchor of the nightly Ten O’Clock News on TV station WDSU. He married the late Noel Dillard in 1956. By early 1958, bored with TV and inspired by a friend, the couple traveled the country for nearly a year, Ken doing pastel caricatures of fraternity brothers on college campuses.
In late 1958 Mr. Gilmore decided to become a magazine writer. The couple moved to New York City, and after a short period of rejections (“I didn’t know what a magazine article was”), he began to get more assignments than he could comfortably handle. They adopted a son, Robert Dillard Gilmore, and a daughter, Patricia Ann Gilmore. Ken wrote for the Saturday Evening Post, New York Times Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Popular Science, Saturday Review, Stereo Review, Consumer Reports, and other popular magazines. He also wrote several books, including a handsome coffee-table book featuring the amazing images created by scanning-electron microscopes.
In 1967, Mr. Gilmore was named science editor of WNEW-TV in New York City. Then in 1971 he was hired as Executive Editor of Popular Science Magazine, where he helped lead a successful editorial refocus of this venerable magazine. He continued doing science reporting for WNEW and writing freelance articles. Ken was named Editor-In-Chief of Popular Science in 1980 and held the post for 10 years, then was elevated to senior management of Times Mirror Magazines, owner of Popular Science. Among the many magazine and TV journalism awards he won are the Albert Lasker Award for Medical Writing, the American Heart Association’s Howard W. Blakeslee Award, the American Institute of Physics Award, and the National Association for the Advance of Science Award.
Mr. Gilmore’s first marriage ended in divorce, and in 1985 he married Elaine (Oliver) Smay. Together they became certified scuba divers, avid skiers, and marathon runners. They loved New York: their work, the NY Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, Central Park, travel, entertaining, and their 39th floor West Side apartment with amazing views. They joined a rollicking scuba club called the New York City Sea Gypsies, where they met several people who remain their closest friends. The club sponsored local dives on summer weekends and an annual week-long trip to the Caribbean. Ken soon mastered the art, craft—and bulky equipment—of underwater photography. (Enlargements of his images hang in the library of the couple’s home.) Ken also loved sailing, especially sailboat racing. And he enjoyed designing and building furniture using his prized collection of shop tools.
Ken retired from Times Mirror Magazines on December 31, 1992, and he and Elaine moved to Baton Rouge to help his mother, for whom life was becoming difficult. They lived in Baton Rouge for 14 years, then moved (with their two Persian cats) to a beach rental in Westbrook in June 2007. They bought their house in Old Saybrook in August 2008.
Mr. Gilmore is survived by his wife, Elaine; son and daughter-in-law Robert D. Gilmore and Jacqueline Broth of Mount Kisco, NY; and daughter Patricia Ann (Gilmore) Haight of Mims, FL. Ken was devoted to his immediate and extended family as well as to his many friends. He formed deep personal friendships throughout his life, including some that began during his childhood in Louisiana. All who knew him recognized his depth of knowledge on many subjects, as well as his personal honor, sense of humor, and ability to listen.
Mr. Gilmore’s professional papers will be donated to the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. A gathering to celebrate his peripatetic life will be held once this dreadful pandemic is over. The family asks that gifts in Ken’s memory go to The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, 300 Main Street, Old Saybrook, CT 06475; or online at www.thekate.org.