Thomas O. Gillespie, 78, of Glen Mills, a building contractor and philanthropist, died of heart failure Christmas Day at Riddle Memorial Hospital.

Since the early 1970s, Mr. Gillespie's firm, TOG Construction, had built several hundred homes in the area, including 26 houses in Bethel Township at the Moors at Scot's Glen, named in honor of his Scottish ancestry.

Mr. Gillespie also operated Go Co., a construction firm in Glen Mills. For 50 years, until it closed earlier this year, he co-owned Gillespie & Ritchie Plumbing and Heating in Lima.

In 1974, Mr. Gillespie and his wife, Eleanor Moran Gillespie, donated 13 acres to the Brandywine Youth Club in Glen Mills in honor of a son, Thomas Jr., who died in 1972.

The property was transformed into Gillespie Park, with five baseball fields, a football field, and a soccer field. In 1987, in honor of their son, Joseph, who died in 1982, the Gillespies constructed a building in the park for sports equipment. Both sons were involved in sports.

Mr. Gillespie and his wife donated plumbing materials when the Rachel Kohl Community Library in Glen Mills was built in 1989, and they later donated funds for the installation and upkeep of a reference library there. Mr. Gillespie was a major contributor to the O'Donoghue Brandywine Field House in Concordville, which opened in the spring.

Shortly before her death in 1992, Eleanor Gillespie established a fund to provide a Thanksgiving feast for needy families selected by the Garnet Valley School District. Mr. Gillespie had continued the Thanksgiving feast tradition, said a son, James.

A native of Scranton, Mr. Gillespie graduated from Scranton Central High School, where he was a star basketball player. He and his wife grew up a block apart and married in 1950. They moved to the Philadelphia area because jobs were scarce in Scranton, their son said.

While apprenticed to a plumber, Mr. Gillespie went to school at night to become a master plumber and had two part-time jobs to support his family.

Years later, he delighted in helping out hardworking young people who were starting a business or struggling to keep one they had, his son said.

Mr. Gillespie was a Mason and belonged to several organizations that honored him for his community service. He was past president of the Business and Professional Association of Western Delaware County, and in the 1980s was instrumental in negotiating with SEPTA to bring bus service to the area. In 1976, he chaired the Concord Township Tricentennial celebration.

The father of eight skied with his family in Vermont and Colorado, and they vacationed in Puerto Rico and Cancun, Mexico. One summer, he piled his kids into a station wagon, and with a pop-up camper set out on a 32-day cross-country excursion.

"We only stayed in a hotel two nights," James Gillespie said.

More recently, he visited Niagara Falls with his grandchildren.

Mr. Gillespie traveled the world, and had vacation homes in the Poconos, Ocean City, N.J., and Sabal Springs, Fla. He bowled on Friday nights with friends, and was a devoted Eagles and Phillies fan.

In addition to his son James, he is survived by sons Robert and Edward; daughters Peggy Mills and Suzanne Mishler; two sisters; 13 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. A daughter, Nancy Coia, died in 2005.

Friends may call from 6 to 9 p.m. today and from 10 a.m., followed by a funeral at 11 a.m., tomorrow at Elam United Methodist Church, 1073 Smithbridge Rd., Glen Mills. Burial will be in Media Cemetery.

Donations may be made to the Brandywine Youth Club, Box 280, Concordville, Pa. 19331.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.