When Lou Gilleran ’79 says he has an “interesting background,” the physician and retired Navy captain is really underselling himself. A foster child in his teens, he navigated college and career choices alone, worked construction to help pay for college and still found time to play sports.
After graduating Montclair with a BS in Biology, Gilleran dropped out of New Jersey Medical School “because I just don’t think I was ready for it.” He went to St. George’s University School of Medicine in Grenada and then the U.S. invaded Grenada while he was there. “I came back and actually did a television interview with Montclair State after I got evacuated from Grenada.”
Growing up in New York City, Gilleran was one of six children; his parents divorced when he was 5. As a teen, he lived with his aunt briefly, before going to live with a friend’s mother in Montclair as a foster child at 16. A conversation with a guidance counselor led him to Drew University before he transferred to Montclair.
“A real saving grace is when I spoke to my guidance counselor at Montclair High School, and he told me because I was in the foster care program, I was considered an emancipated minor” and eligible for assistance through the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program, Gilleran recalls.
“I worked all through college,” he says. “If I had had to work any more, there’s no way I would have been able to graduate, let alone excel.”
In addition, Gilleran says he took full advantage of tutoring offered to EOF students, especially for calculus. “So, the program really saved me.”
After completing an internal medicine residency in Cleveland, he joined the Navy as a medical officer and served as a flight surgeon and in various leadership roles, completing a residency in aerospace medicine. He was deployed to many locations, including Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2016, Gilleran retired from the Navy after 27 years, having achieved the rank of captain and with more than 20 awards, including the Legion of Merit, six Meritorious Service, Navy Commendation, two Navy Achievement and two National Defense medals. Today, Gilleran lives in San Diego, where he practices internal and preventive medicine part time and is also part of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department team that provides medical care for inmates.
Despite his challenges in college, Gilleran remembers Montclair fondly.
“I had time to play water polo and be on the swim team my junior and senior years and hung out at the Student Center,” he says. “I played some Frisbee on the lawn and spent a lot of time in the library, needless to say.”
He’s donated to Montclair over the years but reading about fellow ’79 graduate Greg Collins in Montclair magazine last year inspired him to do more. Both were named EOF champions. Grateful for EOF’s assistance, he has created two scholarships, one to help EOF students with books and other needs, and the other for students in the Health Careers program.
“It’s important to give back; I’m honored do it,” Gilleran says. He wants to help students the way EOF helped him and demonstrate that “you can get through some of your trials and tribulations and make something of yourself, and then hopefully, help other people out on your way up.”
–Sylvia A. Martinez