Donald McGilchrist—known as a Navigator theologian, eloquent communicator, gifted administrator, caring friend and devoted family man—went home to his Lord on Tuesday, July 2, at the age of 81.
A British citizen, Donald learned about Christ and the Scriptures from Navigator pioneer George Sanchez at Oxford University in England. Over the years, he became more involved with the U.K. Navigators, eventually serving as the lead administrator of our work in England.
In 1976, the U.K. Navigators graciously sent Donald as a missionary to the United States. He became an international vice president, serving with three former international presidents—Lorne Sanny, Jerry White and Mike Treneer. Donald made a strong contribution as the primary administrator of the international Navigators. His tenure as a member of the International Executive Team ended in 2005, but he remained on staff as an advisor until his death.
Some of Donald’s closest friends and colleagues had this to say about him: “His life and work reflected a servant who often had greater abilities than those he served,” said Jerry White, international president emeritus. Jim Petersen said, “Donald was a godly man, characterized by the fruit of the Spirit. Grace and truth describe him. There was a lot about him that could have made him proud, but he was a humble man.” And Mike Treneer, a former international president, called Donald “a gentle giant of a man with great wisdom.”
In recent years, Donald devoted hundreds of hours to researching, writing and publishing an extensive history of The Navigators. He could often be found in his office surrounded by archival records, binders, and hand-written notes. His work can be read on navhistory.org.
Donald was also a founding member of the Global Commerce Network and a co-author of seven GCN books known collectively as the Scriptural Roots of Commerce. In 2018, GCN published Donald’s eighth book titled The Entrepreneurial God.
Donald married his wife, Jeanie, on May 18, 1963. His daughters, Lindsey and Alison, said their parents had a profound love for each other. As Jeanie gained notoriety as a public speaker, Donald told her that his role was to stay in the hotel room during her talks and “to shore her up” in prayer. Prior to her death in 2013, Jeanie struggled with a long-term illness. Donald cared for her daily, including putting on her makeup each day after she was stricken with blindness.
Donald rarely missed the school and sporting events of his three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Every day (except Wednesdays) he would pick up his great-granddaughter, Eleese (11), at school and take her back to his house to do her homework. That dedication forged a beautiful friendship between them. Near the end of his life, while in pain and in a wheelchair, he was determined to attend the first football game of his five-year-old great-grandson, McKeon. His two grandsons, Andrew and Ian, considered Donald to be their father as he helped Lindsey raise the boys after she became a single mother.
Not long before he died, Donald said that one of his favorite scriptures was Nehemiah 2:20. “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build . . .” He added that to be a servant of God made everything in life meaningful and joyful. “Everything else,” he said, “is just rubbish.”
Donald was born in England in 1937, just as the terrors of World War II were beginning to unfold. His father moved the McGilchrist family to Scotland to take refuge from the worst fighting of the war. As a young adult, Donald was accepted at Oxford University where he completed a triple major in politics, philosophy and economics—the equivalent of a master’s degree—while playing high-level rugby.
After college, Donald worked for a cigarette company in the marketing division. When he became a Christian, his faith motivated him to resign. He then went on to work for British Rail. During his tenure, he successfully reorganized the nation’s train scheduling system. This monumental accomplishment, which he said happened in partnership with God, positioned him as the youngest regional manager British Rail ever had. Many in the company saw him as the top candidate to lead British Rail in its entirety. To the surprise of everyone, he made it clear he did not want the job, citing his desire to preserve his time with family.
Donald is survived by his two daughters, Alison McGilchrist and Lindsey Deason; his grandchildren, Andrew McGilchrist, Ian Deason, and Holleigh Deason; and five great-grandchildren, Ian (who died at age nine months), Eleese (11), Danicka (10), McKeon (5) and Lachlan (1).