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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wood, Gillam Albert (Pat) (1910–1993)

by Allan Harman

This article was published online in 2019

Gillam Albert McConnell Wood (1910–1993), Presbyterian and Uniting Church minister, was born on 6 December 1910 at Geelong, Victoria, eldest of four children of Edward Gillam Wood, labourer, and his wife Elizabeth, née McConnell, both Victorian born. He was raised in the Western District, where his father obtained a soldier settlement farm near Noorat, and he attended Terang State, Kolora State, and Terang Higher Elementary schools. Sponsored by a wealthy spinster who worshipped at the Noorat Presbyterian Church, he completed his secondary education as a boarder (1927–30) at Geelong College, where he was a prefect and house captain in his final year. At school he received the nickname ‘Pat,’ by which he was widely known for the rest of his life. The college principal, Rev. (Sir) Frank Rolland (1878–1965), who had been the minister at Noorat, was a strong influence.

As a resident (1931–37) of Ormond College, Wood studied at the University of Melbourne (BA, 1935) and then at the theological hall of the Presbyterian Church. At Ormond he was chairman (1936–37) of the students’ committee and rowed in the college crew, also rowing for the university (1935–37). On 28 December 1937 at the Presbyterian Church, Mosman, Sydney, he married Mary Seavington Stuckey, a social worker. They had met at a Student Christian Movement conference and Wood twice rode his bicycle to Sydney during their courtship. The next year he was ordained and appointed to the Whyalla Presbyterian Church, South Australia. From there he was called to Sale Presbyterian Church, Victoria, in 1942.

While a student, Wood had served (1931–33) in the Melbourne University Rifles. From 1943 to 1949, in the rank of flight lieutenant, he was a respected part-time chaplain at the Royal Australian Air Force Station, East Sale. His ecumenical interests developed while he was at Sale. He was present at the first meeting of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in August 1948 and at the Geneva meeting of the World Presbyterian Alliance in September. From that time on, he played a prominent role in ecumenical affairs.

Wood moved to St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Geelong, in 1949. His administrative abilities, which he had demonstrated at Whyalla and Sale, led to his appointment as clerk of the Presbytery of Geelong. He took a prominent part in its centenary celebrations in 1959 and authored the published souvenir. He was also a council member at Geelong College (1950–63) and Ormond College (1958–76). In 1961 he was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria.

In 1963 Wood was called to the Scots Presbyterian Church, Hobart. As a senior minister of a prominent congregation he had many other commitments, such as looking after vacant parishes and chairing committees, including the council of Fahan Presbyterian Girls’ College. He was moderator (1969) and then clerk (1970–76) of the Presbyterian Church of Tasmania and the author of numerous entries in the book commemorating its 150th anniversary in 1973. His ecumenical interests continued and he was twice the secretary of the Tasmanian Council of Churches.

Wood was a member from 1964 and chairman (1969–77) of the Australian Presbyterian Board of Missions (from 1972 the Board of Ecumenical Mission and Relations). With his wife, who was a member of the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, he travelled widely as a representative of these boards. In 1965 they visited missions at Ernabella, South Australia, and Mowanjum, Western Australia, also travelling to South Korea and Indonesia. Wood flew to Port Vila, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), in 1969 and 1972 to arrange the handover of control of the Paton Memorial Hospital from the Australian Presbyterian Church to the British administration. He also visited Hong Kong and South Korea in 1972, the latter in connection with the transfer of the Il Shin Hospital, Pusan, to the Presbyterian Church of Korea.

In 1973 Wood became the first minister from Tasmania to be elected as moderator-general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. He served in this role until 1977, overseeing the move of most Presbyterian congregations into the Uniting Church of Australia. After retiring from full-time ministry in 1976, he returned to Geelong and served in a part-time capacity in Uniting Church parishes such as Corio-Norlane, Airey’s Inlet, Lorne, and St David’s, Newtown. He published three booklets on local history and an article about the Wood family, and was active in the Retired Persons Association, Probus, Rotary, the University of the Third Age, and the Newtown Highland Gathering (chieftain from 1986).

Wood was appointed OBE in 1978 for services to the church and awarded an OAM in 1989 for services to the elderly. Predeceased by his wife (d. 1982) and survived by his four sons, he died on 3 October 1993 while visiting a son in San Francisco, United States of America, and was buried in Geelong Eastern cemetery. Another son, Malcolm, described his father’s ‘simple faith, traditional and sure values, open nature, [and] humility, which office and ceremony did not spoil’ (Herald Sun 1993, 72).

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Geelong College. ‘Heritage Guide to the Geelong College.’ Accessed 1 August 2018. http://gnet.geelongcollege.vic.edu.au:8080/wiki/WOOD-Very-Reverend-Gillam-Albert-McConnell-Pat-OBE-OAM-MA-1910-1993.ashx. Copy held on ADB file
  • Herald Sun (Melbourne). ‘Church Man Simply Pat.’ 8 October 1993, 72
  • Holmes, Joyce. Kolora in Black and White. Terang, Vic.: J. Holmes, 1990
  • Notman, G. G., and B. R. Keith. The Geelong College 1861–1961. Geelong, Vic.: Geelong College, 1961
  • Miller, R. S. ed. Presbyterian Church of Tasmania, Triple Jubilee, 1973: Record. Hobart: Presbytery of Tasmania, 1973
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, WOOD G A M.
  • Prentis, Malcolm D. ‘Fathers and Brethren: The Moderators of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, 1901–1977.’ Church Heritage 12, no. 2 (September 2001): 124–39
  • Wood, Malcolm. Interview by Ann-Mari Jordens, 17 August 2001. Transcript. National Library of Australia

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Allan Harman, 'Wood, Gillam Albert (Pat) (1910–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wood-gillam-albert-pat-27629/text35061, published online 2019, accessed online 7 August 2020.

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