Joan Ely Gildemeister

Gildemeister—Joan Ely Gildemeister, 88, on November 17, 2015, in Mitchellville, Md. Joan was born in San Antonio, Tex., and grew up in a military family on military bases. She studied at Mills College and earned a bachelor’s from University of California in Berkeley at 19. She married Enrique Gildemeister soon after, and they lived in Berkeley for 15 years before moving to Peru. Three years later they divorced, and she moved to Washington, D.C., working briefly for the federal government. She earned a master’s in psychology from George Washington University in 1967 and began study for a doctorate in education at University of Maryland, College Park. In 1971 she taught at St. Lawrence University, completing her dissertation in 1972. She taught at Sarah Lawrence College and at Staten Island Community College (then CUNY Richmond College) before returning to Washington in 1976 as a professor at Howard University, where she taught for 16 years, integrating peace studies into her teaching whenever possible.

After many conversations with Quaker Kenneth Boulding, she joined Friends Meeting of Washington in 1980; served on several committees, including the Hunger and Homelessness Task Force; influenced Friends to embrace gay and lesbian rights; volunteered for American Friends Service Committee and Friends Committee on National Legislation; participated in peace vigils at the Capitol; was active in the Nuclear Freeze Movement, anti-torture initiatives, Peace Child International, and the U.S. Peace Memorial Project; and worked with the American Psychological Association to try and prevent psychologists from assisting in harsh interrogation techniques. She took part in the meeting’s Spiritual Formation program for about 15 years. Her intellectual approach to spirituality and her knowledge of Quaker writers were assets to the group; where others might comment on an article or a pamphlet, she was more likely to present a treatise or another primary source in the original Spanish or German.

She retired from teaching in her 60s and earned a psychotherapy degree from Washington Psychoanalytic Institute in 1994. In the late 1990s, her own counseling practice provided child, adolescent, and family therapy. In 2005, when nearly 80, she visited the Right Sharing of World Resources (RSWR) women’s micro-enterprise projects in Tamil Nadu, beginning a decade as co-clerk of Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s RSWR Working Group. She read and spoke German, French, Spanish, and Esperanto. Until she moved to Collington in 2012, she conducted student psychological evaluations, often in Spanish, and testified in court for the D.C. public schools. She worked at Miriam’s Kitchen and at S.O.M.E. and gleaned at the Takoma Park Sunday Market. She encouraged support for RSWR through her last year of life. In 2015, Friends Meeting of Washington recognized her as a meeting elder.

Joan balanced her seriousness with boundless joie de vivre and a lifelong love of the arts. Her travels made her appreciate the ways we are all the same and the ways we are all different. A brilliant conversationalist, she allowed her omnivorous intellect and imagination to roam free at her salon-like gatherings. She was devoted to her immediate and extended family and to a wide circle of friends; reveling in her children’s achievements, she came to their aid even when they were adults. Friends from her Spiritual Formation group of years before came to worship with her in the week before her death, and her singing group Thomas Circle Singers and a Balkan folk group she had started sang at her memorial meeting for worship.

Her son Rick’s premature death in 2007 was a deep sorrow for her. Joan is survived by two children, Kathy Gildemeister and Hanson Gildemeister; a brother, Michael Ely; and two nieces.

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