Dr. Orrin Sterling Gillis III, 86 years old, died as peacefully as he lived in his home under a full Texas moon on April 9, 2020, surrounded by his devoted wife and four children. The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease. He had been a resident of San Angelo, Texas, for the last 57 years.
Sterling was born to Helen (nee Harrison) and Orrin Sterling Gillis Jr. in his grandfather’s home in Fayette on March 20, 1934. At the age of six, he started a paper route and later worked as a soda jerk. As a teenager, he was the designated driver before there was even such a thing – always ensuring his friends arrived home safely. He graduated from Fayette High School in 1952 and attended The University of Mississippi, where he studied chemistry and was a member of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. He entered Ole Miss Medical School in Jackson and while lunching with his sister one day, she introduced Sterling to her sorority sister, Jane Pickering. Less than one year later, on July 8, 1956, they were married. They celebrated 64 years together.
Aside from his family, Sterling’s passion was medicine, and he knew from age 15, after reading “The Cry and The Covenant,” that he would be an obstetrician. Upon graduation from medical school at The University of Mississippi in 1959, Sterling and Jane moved to Houston where he was an Intern and Resident at Hermann Hospital in the fields of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which he completed in 1963. That same year, he was certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. At Hermann Hospital, he received the award for Outstanding Intern and would become Resident in Chief.
Sterling and Jane moved to San Angelo, Texas, in June 1963, to begin his medical practice with Dr. Roy Moon at the Clinic Hospital. He was a Captain in the United States Army and in 1966, was stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., during the Vietnam War. He returned to San Angelo in 1968 and practiced until 1998, when he retired. During that time, he delivered more than 7,000 babies. In 2000, he returned to assist in surgeries for another 11 years. He worked closely with Planned Parenthood, caring for those in need, and he also served many years as a physician supervisor for those providing care for uninsured and under-insured patients at La Esperanza Health & Dental Centers.
Sterling was one of the founders of Angelo Community Medical Center, which opened its doors in 1977. He served as its Chief of Staff in 1979 and was a board member of Angelo Community Hospital from 1988 until 1995. He was a past President of the Tom Green Eight County Medical Society and was honored with the Golden Cane Award in 1998 for his outstanding contribution to medicine. As one of the founding members of the Roy E. Moon Lectureship Series at Angelo State University which enriches the University and community with Nobel Laureate guest lecturers, Sterling and Jane were especially honored to host Dr. Linus Pauling at their home one year. Sterling served on the San Angelo Health Foundation Board of Trustees from its inception in 1995 to 2009 and in 2009, the Foundation honored him for his service by establishing an Endowed Scholarship in his name to be awarded each year to those pursuing the field of Medicine.
Sterling was a life-long Presbyterian and served many years as an Elder of the church. He and Jane were honored to help host Theologian Frederick Buechner in San Angelo. At his death, Sterling was a dedicated member of Grace Presbyterian Chapel.
Sterling loved jogging and was one of the early members of the San Angelo Road Lizards, some of the first people to jog in San Angelo. In the 1970s, he enjoyed hunting blue quail and mule deer south of Marfa, Texas, with his son Sterling. He was an avid reader and an avid baker, baking bread each week for his family. In 1979, on a trip to New York City, he was offered a princely sum for his M. L. Leddy boots made in San Angelo. Of course, he refused to part with them. He relished traveling the globe with his wife, children, and grandchildren.
Sterling loved West Texas thunderstorms and early morning sunrises. He loved jazz, the Fox Trot, writing poems for his family, Ole Miss football, and telling a little limerick every now and then. But, more than anything else, he adored his family. Those surviving him are his wife, Jane, of San Angelo; daughter, Catherine Carmody and husband Bill, of New York City; daughter, Rebecca White, of San Angelo; son, Orrin Sterling Gillis IV and wife Martha, of Houston; and daughter, Whitney Zylstra and husband Ken, of Huntingdon Valley, Pa. Also surviving are eight grandchildren: Rachael White Young (John), Olivia White, Calvin Gillis Steinhauer, Kendall Zylstra, Calvin James Zylstra, Alysia Puckett (Campbell), Juliet Gillis and Ben Curley; sister, Carolyn Gillis Nielsen, of Jackson; brother, David Gillis and wife Prissy, of Jackson; brother-in-law, Frank “Buster” Pickering, of Hazlehurst; numerous nieces and a nephew and great nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his parents and a beloved sister, Helen Gillis Burt.
A memorial service will be held at a future date. The family requests that memorials be made to the Sterling Gillis Scholarship Fund through the San Angelo Area Foundation, www.saafound.org, to aid students wanting to pursue a career in medicine. The family is grateful to Pastor Kary Fry and also to their remarkable circle of compassionate friends who have been steadfast in their support of our family over the years.
Family and friends can send online condolences at www.harper-funeralhome.com