IN MEMORIAM: Peyton Craighill ‘65

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The Rev. Dr. Peyton Gardner Craighill, Class of 1965, died peacefully in Lexington, VA on Tuesday, June 4, 2019 at age 89. He was born in Nanchang, China on October 24, 1929, also known as Black Thursday, the day that the Wall Street stock market first crashed, as the youngest child of missionaries Marian Gardner Craighill, a teacher and writer, and Lloyd Rutherford Craighill, Sr., Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Anqing.

Craighill spent his early childhood years in China until World War II and spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese for most of his life. His father and future father-in-law Donald Roberts, a college professor in Shanghai, were both interned in a Japanese concentration camp while Peyton, his mother, and his siblings, the late Lloyd Rutherford Craighill, Jr. and Kate Craighill Roberts, returned to the United States and settled with family in Englewood, NJ. He attended the Englewood School for Boys (now Dwight-Englewood School) and began his lifelong passion for opera at age 13, taking the New York bus across the Hudson River to buy standing room tickets at the old Met.

He graduated from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA, followed by Yale University where he participated in the Directed Studies program, sang tenor with the Yale Glee Club and an octet called the Augmented Seven, and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. At that time he discerned his call to the priesthood and returned to the “Holy Hill” in Alexandria for his master’s in divinity at Virginia Theological Seminary. He was ordained a deacon and a priest at St. James Church, Lothian, MD on July 10, 1954 by his father and sponsored by Bennett Sims, future Bishop of Atlanta and then rector of the Church of the Redeemer, Baltimore, where Peyton served as a curate.

While he lived in Baltimore his sister Kate embarked on a matchmaking effort to connect him with a Swarthmore College student, Mary Markley Roberts, Kate’s husband John Roberts’ first cousin. Mary had been too little to bother with while they were children in China; her older brothers Harley and Markley Roberts were far more interesting companions for a young boy. Their first official date was in Philadelphia at the Victor Café, launching a romance and Peyton’s pursuit of Mary which spanned more than half a decade as they worked in different corners of the globe - Peyton following missionary family tradition as a chaplain in Okinawa and Mary as a teacher in Beirut, Lebanon.

In 1961 Peyton joined the faculty of Tainan Theological College in Taiwan, and on April 24, 1962 he and Mary were married at the college chapel. They served a joint ministry as teachers and administrators, Peyton eventually as vice principal, returning twice to the US to pursue a master of sacred theology degree at General and later a PhD in liturgy at Princeton Theological Seminary. Their children, Cecily Gardner Craighill Davis and Peyton Markley Craighill, were born during their years in Princeton, NJ.

He was a member of the Southeast Asia Association for Theological Education and the Taiwan Church Consultation Council, and was influential in the design and construction of several Episcopal churches in Taiwan. He maintained a love of architecture and design throughout his life, especially around worship spaces. The annual member conferences of the North American Academy of Liturgy were a highlight for him each year.

The family moved back to Princeton in 1978 and Peyton spent several years working at the Episcopal Church Center in New York before becoming Associate Dean of the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. While in Sewanee Peyton realized his lifelong dream of designing and building a house in a style he came to call “Appalachian shibui,” which incorporated elements of Japanese, modern, and timber frame design.

In 1983 he joined the faculty at The Episcopal Academy in Merion, PA and served as a chaplain and religion teacher until 1988 when Allen Bartlett, Bishop of Pennsylvania, asked him to create and lead the School of the Diaconate to prepare vocational deacons for service. Peyton also served as a chaplain at maximum-security Graterford Prison, where he became very active in the criminal justice reform movement and joined the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Prison Society.

After his retirement - which he referred to as re-tiring, with four new tires and a new lease on ministry - Peyton spent two years at St. James Church in Taichung, Taiwan and, returning to the US, as a part-time Senior Associate at the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, PA. He and Mary traveled often, several times with the Yale Alumni Chorus, and chaperoned a memorable trip one summer with Yale’s undergraduate chorus throughout Africa.  

They moved to the retirement community Kendal at Lexington in Virginia in 2008, where they became very involved at Grace Episcopal Church. Peyton was able to finally join the choir and indulge his love of singing instead of serving behind the altar. He found joy in keeping up with the Met Opera through the live HD broadcasts at the local Lexington movie theatre and found great purpose in his writings and program development for baptismal mission and the ministry of the laity. His utter delight for the past six years was showing anyone with eyes his ready stash of pictures of his adored granddaughter, Riley Elizabeth Craighill.

In recent years he developed Parkinson’s and slowly lost his ability to speak and to write, a difficult thing for a man who had spent his life as a teacher, a preacher, a counselor, a scholar and writer, and a singer.

He was predeceased by his parents, oldest brother Edward Gardner Craighill, who died of influenza at a year old, brother Lloyd, and sister-in-law Maryly Nute Craighill. He is survived by Mary, Cecily, son-in-law William John Davis, Jr., Peyton, daughter-in-law Ashley Elizabeth Jeffress Craighill, Riley, sister Kate, brother-in-law Markley, sister-in-law Leslie Chapman Roberts, nieces, nephews, and a constellation of cousins to whom he was devoted.


A memorial of Peyton’s life is expected to take place at Grace Episcopal Church on Monday, June 10, 2019 in Lexington, with an additional service planned for later in the year in Bryn Mawr, PA.