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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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Ernest Gordon, longtime dean of the chapel, dies

A memorial service for Ernest Gordon, dean of the chapel at Princeton from 1955 to 1981, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, in the University Chapel. Gordon died Jan. 16 at age 85.

A native of Scotland, Gordon decided on a career in the ministry while in a Japanese prison camp for three years during World War II. In 1942 while serving as a captain in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, he was captured by the Japanese and was marched with other British prisoners into the Southeast Asian jungles to build the Burma-Siam Railroad bridge over the River Kwai.

In a widely acclaimed book, "Through the Valley of the Kwai," published by Harper and Row in 1962, Gordon provided a firsthand account of the story behind the bridge and of the spiritual resurgence of those in the prison camp along the "Railroad of Death." The book inspired a movie, "To End All Wars," scheduled for release this spring.

Following the war, Gordon studied at Hartford (Conn.) Theological Seminary and the University of Glasgow. He was ordained a minister of the Church of Scotland at Paisley Abbey in 1950, serving there for the next three years. After preaching at churches in Amagansett and Montauk, Long Island, for a year, Gordon came to Princeton as Presbyterian chaplain in 1954. The following year, he was named dean of the chapel.

During his tenure at Princeton, Gordon was a frequent lecturer and author of articles on religion and morality on college campuses for theological journals as well as such publications as Reader's Digest and Seventeen. He also wrote several books, including "Meet Me at the Door" (Harper and Row, 1969), which told of his encounters with "the new world of college students."

Gordon was the founder and first president of the Church Service Society of America. He also served as trustee of the Purcell School and as chair of the New Jersey Mental Health Research and Development Fund.

After retiring from the University in 1981, Gordon moved to Washington, D.C., to be the president of the Christian Rescue Effort for the Emancipation of Dissidents. In that role, he helped several hundred dissidents get out of prison in Eastern Bloc countries. He also traveled around the world, serving as a visiting lecturer at the University of St. Andrews, Moscow State Open University and International Christian University in Tokyo. He later moved back to Princeton.

Survivors include his son Alastair of Princeton and his daughter Gillian Crozier of London.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601

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