Walter Emslie Gillis (1874-1954) & Helen Agnes Chadwick Gillis (1883-1953)

Bruce W. Lo, June 2020

Basic Biographical Data

Walter E. Gillis was born March 15, 1874 in Marthasville, Petrolia Lambton, Ontario, Canada; died November 3, 1954 in Glendale, California, USA.

Helen Agnes Chadwick Gillis was born December 23, 1883 in Chatham, Northumberland, New Brunswick, Canada; and died January 26, 1953 in Glendale, California, USA.

Parentage: Walter Gillis' parents were John Alfred Patrick Gillis and Anna Jeanette Kerr. Helen Chadwick's parents were John Chadwick Sr. and Mary Elizabeth Kelly.

Marriage: Walter E. Gillis and Helen A. Chadwick were married August 19, 1900 in the state of Washington.

Children: Son: Ithiel Elwyn Gillis 1903-1993; Daughter: Berenice Irene Gillis Larson 1919-1991.

Major Service Highlights:

Figure 1: Walter Emslie Gillis, ca YYYY?

    • 1910-1919, 1922-1930 Mission service in China: mainly in publishing ministry, treasurer, mission director / superintendent, construction supervisor.

    • 1919-1922 Mission service in Southeast Asia: construction supervisor of Malayan Seminary, and manager of Signs Publishing House.

    • 1930-1940 Mission service in Korea: rebuilding Korean Mission headquarters, and manager of Signs of the Times Publishing.

    • 1941-1942 Bible teacher at Gem State Academy, Caldwell, Idaho; 1943-1945 Bible instructor at Voice of Prophecy Correspondence School, Glendale, California.

Early Years

Walter Emslie Gillis, the third in a family of seven children, was born in Marthasville, Petrolia Lambton, Ontario, Canada on March 15, 1874 to the family of John Alfred Patrick and Anna Jeanette Kerr Gillis.7 While a child of tender age, he moved with his parents to North Dakota, where he received most of his early education in the frontier schools there.1 When he was eleven years old, the family moved westward again to Vancouver, British Columbia in a covered wagon. Young Walter rode a horse bareback most of the way. When they arrived, he helped his grandfather build the first home on the site where Vancouver stands today.4

Walter's parents were Presbyterians and therefore he was confirmed in that church in his early life. Later, through reading, he accepted the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, decided to join the church, and was baptized.1 He then went to Walla Walla College to pursue a course of study, working as a printer to support himself from 1897 to 1898. A little later he became the owner, publisher, and editor of a newspaper in a town near Seattle. On August 19, 1900, Walter married Helen Agnes Chadwick, who was from Chatham, Northumberland, New Brunswick, Canada. Her parents were John Chadwick Sr and Mary Elizabeth Kelly. From this union they they were blessed with two children: a son, Ithiel Elwyn Gillis, born 1903 in Oakland, California, and a daughter, Berenice Irene Gillis Larson, born 1919 in Singapore.1,2,3,4

In 1901, the Gillis's spent a few months at St. Helena Sanitarium hoping to become nurses, but when the invitation came in 1902 to connect with the Pacific Press, they moved to Oakland, California, where they remained until 1904 before moving with the press to Mountain View, California. Walter was involved with the reconstruction of the Press following the earthquake and fire. In 1907 and 1908, Walter Gillis was sent to Mexico City as manager of the denominational publishing house to help start the press work in that country. Upon returning to the US, Helen became the dean of girls at the Mount Vernon Academy. It was about that time, around 1909-1910, that the Gillis's received a call to go to China as missionaries. While waiting for their immigration clearance, Walter went to Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Canada to manage a farm for the owner, Mr. Ford.3

Called to China (1910-1919)

Walter and Helen Gillis left the US to travel to China in 1910. Upon arrival in Shanghai, Walter was appointed the Assistant Treasurer of the China Union Mission. The next year 1911, because of his previous experience, the position of Acting Manager of the Signs of the Times Publishing House was added to his portfolio. At about that time, the property at Ning Kuo Road in Shanghai was purchased by the Church, and Walter was appointed as the architect and builder of the Church's headquarters at that address in 1912. In the same year, he was promoted to full manager of the Shanghai Signs of the Times Publishing House, a position he held for three years until 1915.

In 1916, thye moved to Kiukiang, Kiangsu (today's Jiangsu), and where Walter took the position of Treasurer of the Kiangsu Mission. When the new Central China Union Mission was formed in 1917, Walter was appointed the Treasurer of that Union, with headquarters at Hankow, Hubei. He remained in that post for two years until 1919.5

Singapore-Malaysia (1919-1922)

From 1919 to 1922, Walter Gillis was called to serve in the Malayan Mission, where he became the Manager of the Malayan Publishing House and supervised the construction of the Malayan Signs of the Times Press at 399 Upper Sorangoon Road, Singapore. He also led out in the construction of four family homes in the upper part of the compound as well as the beginnings of the Malayan Seminary. It was evident that Walter Gillis' practical construction skill was very much valued by a growing Adventist church in Asia.5

Return to China (1922-1930)

Walter returned to China in 1922 and became the Home Missionary Secretary of the Anhhwei Mission with offices in Shanghai while his wife and children were back in America. In 1924, he became the Director of the Shensi Mission and supervised the construction of homes in Sianfu (today's Xi'an). He remained in that post until 1926. But no sooner had he completed the new mission homes, war broke out near Sianfu. The city in which they were located, sustained one of the longest sieges in modern Chinese history, as multitudes perished from pestilence and starvation. For the next three years, from 1927 to 1930, Walter served as the Home Mission Secretary of the East China Union Mission.1,4,5

Korean Years (1930-1940)

In 1930, Walter and Helen answered another S.O.S. call from Korea. They moved to Seoul, Korea, where Walter took charge of the rebuilding of the headquarters of the Korean Mission after the fire. He was responsible for drawing up the plans for the Union office, the Publishing House, and the Headquarters Church. He was also involved in the construction of the original Seoul Sanitarium and Hospital, and the two doctors' homes, and Dormitory. He was regarded as the founding Manager of the Korean Signs of the Times Publishing Houses, a post that he held for ten years until his retirement.1,5


Walter and Helen Gillis formally retired in 1940, returned to the United States, and settled in Caldwell, Idaho. As with most veteran missionaries, Walter remained active for many years after retirement. From 1941 to 1942, Walter taught at Gem State Academy as Bible Teacher, specializing in New Testament, Old Testament, Church History, and prophetic History. For the following four years, he was a Bible Instructor in the Voice of Prophecy Correspondence School at Glendale, California.

But the sunset years crept on apace, and in 1946 he withdrew from active ministry and moved to Mikkalo, Oregon to live with his daughter Bernice's family. A few years later, he moved to Yerington, Nevada. On January 26, 1953, Walter sustained the loss of his beloved companion, Helen, after which his health and strength gradually declined. Just a little more than a year later, Walter Gillis peacefully closed his life record at Glendale, California on November 3, 1954 at the age of 80 years, 7 months and 18 days.1,7

Walter Emilie Gillis will be remembered by many as the main pioneer Adventist missionary to China who was responsible for the planning and constructing of Adventist Mission Compounds, and the building up of the work of the publishing ministry in China and Asia.

Figure 2: Pastor Walter Emslie and Mrs Helen Agnes Gillis, ca YYYY?

Figure 3: At Abram La Rue Grave in Hong Kong. ca YYYY?

Figure 4: At the Korean Signs of the Times Publishing House, ca YYYY?


1. Cottrell, R.F., "Life Sketch of Elder Walter E. Gillis", November 5, 1954.

2. "Former Students and Teachers With a Long Mission Service Completed", 60 Years of Progress - Walla Walla College, p. 27, College Place, Washington, 1952.

3. Gillis, Ithiel Elwyn, "Dates of interest to the Gillis Family", unpublished manuscript, Glendale, California, April 11, 1982.

4. Gillis, Ithiel Elwyn, "Notes for W.E. Gillis Memorial Service", 1954.

5. Gillis, Ithiel Elwyn, "Walter Emslie Gillis: Missionary to China", unpublished manuscript, undated.

6. Gillis Walter E., "Our Day" in Malay, The Field Work, Asiatic Division Outlook, June 1920, p. 2.

7. Peterson, Joan, "Summary of Walter E. Gillis Information", February 11, 2015.

8. Peterson, Joan, Personal communications, 2015 to 2020.

9. Peterson, Joan, "Walter Emslie Gillis Family Tree", unpublished manuscript, undated.

10. Ven Dolan, Leo (editor), "Gillis, Walter Emslie", Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Second Edition, Review and Herald Publishing Association: Washington, D.C. 1966.

Edited by Joshua Anderson, September 2020

Reviewed by Walter A. Larson September 2020

Last updated by Bruce Lo 10/29/2020