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Obituary for Rev. George P. Timberlake

Updated: Jun 14

Below is the obituary for our 29th rector, Fr. George Timberlake, which appeared in the September 11, 2013, edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

The Reverend George Philip Timberlake, a dedicated and devoted minister serving 10 churches, chapels and institutions in six Episcopal dioceses for 60 years from Ohio to Washington, D.C., died August 27, 2013, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He was 89. As reported by his son, James, he was slowed in recent years by cardiopulmonary difficulties and recently weakened by an infection complicating his recovery.


Seen as a compassionate, gentle parish healer, leader and builder, and a person of deeply founded principles, he was a profound pastoral force for various causes at the parishes he served throughout the years — rallying particularly for the poor, civil and equal rights, and veterans.


As a young child, George Timberlake delivered papers for the Herald Star of Steubenville, Ohio. He was industrious and during his high school years worked various jobs at Weirton Steel and with the Pennsylvania Railroad in Steubenville and in Pittsburgh, where the family moved during the Depression. During that time, he became a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan. He entered Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, in 1941. During his freshman year, after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 19. After attending various service schools in Ohio, New Jersey and New York, he began active service in July 1943. He was commissioned an ensign, U.S. Navy, on August 10, 1944, and achieved the rank of lieutenant (JG). Until July 1946, he was on active duty in various locations in the Pacific theater while serving on board APA-233 Sevier, an attack transport ship, during the Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns. The ship was in Nagasaki harbor shortly after the second atomic bomb attack and in Tokyo Bay to witness the Japanese surrender ceremonies. He returned to Kenyon after the war and finished his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947.


In March 1960, the Grand Haven Tribune quoted the Rev. Timberlake as saying his parents had instilled the values that "people and ideas were more important than money and social position," and these were paramount in his decision to become an Episcopalian minister. In later years, he also spoke of his observations from the invasion of Iwo Jima — when he saw soldiers leave the ship and many return wounded or killed — as an additional influence on his choice to enter the ministry. He entered Bexley Hall (now Bexley Seabury) Seminary on the Kenyon College campus in 1947. He received his divinity degree (M.Div.) and was ordained to the ministry in 1950.


The Rev. Timberlake’s first formal position as an assistant chaplain was at Kenyon College campus at the Church of the Holy Spirit in the Diocese of Ohio until 1951. That year, he was called to become rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Findlay, Ohio. He moved from Findlay in 1958 upon taking a call to Grand Haven in the Diocese of Western Michigan to become the 29th rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church. During his nearly 13 years at that parish, he was involved in many community initiatives, including helping to establish an ecumenical council amongst the parishes in the community. He was active in the 1960s, working to address the needs of disenfranchised young adults and participating in a variety of leadership training exercises for the Episcopal Church — one of which took his family to Guyana, South America, for four months. In 1964, the Rev. Timberlake was among the first clergy to speak publicly against the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam conflict. He remained a passionate opponent of the war and often preached about its consequences. In 1969, he received a Master of Theology degree from Western Theological Seminary in Holland.


From 1970 until 1972, he joined the Diocese of Eau Claire as rector of Christ Church in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Upon leaving that parish prematurely, he faced a brief suspension of ministerial duties before becoming associate rector in 1973 at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Laurel, Maryland. In 1977, he was called to Trinity Episcopal Church Athens, in the Diocese of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he stayed until 1979 until taking the vicarage at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Germantown, Maryland. In 1983, he became the chaplain of the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C., where he served until 2002. During that time, he also served as associate rector at St. Paul’s Rock Creek in the Diocese of Washington, D.C. He recounted the time at the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home as one of profound reflection on his life and the many veterans among whom he found himself.


In 2002, he was asked to join the roster of clergy as an associate rector at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, Maryland. Until 2008, he principally served the pastoral care ministry, an area of dedication, interest and passion for the Rev. Timberlake. He particularly cared for the sick and the absent of the congregation, endearing him to many at that parish. Upon leaving St. Columba’s, where he formed many deep and lasting connections, he became interim rector at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Temple Hills, Maryland. He retired from that parish and the ministry in July 2010.


Born December 23, 1923, in Steubenville, Ohio, George Philip Timberlake was the second of four children. His father, Richard H. Sr., who trained as an engineer, was a car salesman; and his mother, Elizabeth James, taught high school English and raised four children. He is survived by brother Richard H. Timberlake II and his wife Hildegaard, of Bogart, Georgia; brother Allen Timberlake and his wife Nancy, of Columbia, Maryland; and numerous nephews and nieces.


His sister, Margaret Timberlake Young, died in 2009.


In 1947, he married Eleanor Jeanette Sullivan from Akron, Ohio. They were divorced in 1973. She died in 2004. Survivors from his first marriage include daughter Margaret Leah Timberlake, a teacher in Everett, Washington; and her son, Matthew Philip Buscemi; daughter Sarah Wolcott Timberlake, a theatrical costumer in New York City; son James Harrison Timberlake, an architect in Philadelphia, along with his wife Marguerite V. Rodgers, and their children Harrison Edward and Veronica Ella Yi-Ling Timberlake.


In 1977, he married Patricia Hallaren of Laurel, Maryland. She predeceased him in 2011. He leaves two step-children from his second marriage, Kristen A. Nelson and Mark E. Nelson; along with his wife Maureen and two children, Nicholas and Alexander Nelson, all residents of Bethesda, Maryland.


The Rev. Timberlake was a prolific communicator who often wrote his numerous sermons and correspondence in longhand, using a fountain pen even well after he had access to more modern, digital means. He is fondly remembered for his gentle manner; his ability to resolve conflict, mediate and communicate; and his appreciation and care for those in the greater ecumenical community and the Episcopal Church.

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