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Our Loss

Beloved friend, relative and mentor,

Kenneth Christopher Gilliland,

born in Alameda on September 2, 1957 passed away in his home the Cohen Bray House in Oakland on May 6, 2021 surrounded by friends and family.

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Ken's Story


Born to machinist Kenneth Gordon Gilliland and artist Helen Howen Gilliland, he is part of a lineage of American machinists and engineers. Embarking on his own, he started off his machining career in the medical device field, then later expanded into defense contracting just like his father and uncle, heads of The Gilliland Instrument Company. His technical expertise moved him into making tools and dies for the forging industry, and later heading the second-operation department for a local screw machine shop. As a self taught poly-math with a passion for antiquarian books, Ken dedicated himself to excelling in his craft as well as sharing his immense knowledge by teaching and mentoring youth and adults in machine shop practices


A pillar of his Oakland community, Ken passionately engaged with non-profit organizations such as The Crucible where he headed the machine shop department, growing its capabilities and dazzling Bay Area kids with his model engines and his fascinating “doohickeys.” There, he developed curriculum for machine shop classes and instructed thousands of artists and emergent technicians into how to think like a machinist. Always working to bring out the hidden instrumentality within every person, he volunteered with Bay Area Bike Rescue non-profit, where he donated countless hours fixing bicycles and machining custom trike parts.


Ken was a caretaker for the Cohen Bray House where he lived for 30 years. In addition to his many duties, he could also be found in the kitchen, assisting in the many special events by  cooking and fixing the delicate tea sandwiches and sweets which were served to our guests for our fundraising event.

His interests were as vast as the sea which he loved to sail in, working on boats in the Oakland Marina like the “Just Imagine”, where he clocked thousands of nautical miles sailing up and down the western U.S. with his friends.


In 2006, Ken and the “Diesel Dozen” built “Die-Moto”, the one-of-a-kind motorcycle blending artistic and industrial sensibilities. On his 50th birthday at the Bonneville Salt Flats, they set the still-unbroken world land speed record using 100% biodiesel.

Growing up in the historic Cohen Bray House in Oakland, Ken was the last of the original family members to live in the iconic estate and was the steward of generations of memories and stories about the family and grounds. There, in the family workshop, he worked and played with his vast collection of tools and books shaded by the great oak tree that he flourished under.



His memorial took place at the Cohen Bray House garden on Saturday June 19, 2021 from 2-4pm. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the fundraiser Honoring the Life and Passing of Ken C. Gilliland ( for his end of life care expenses, and/ or a charitable donation in his memory to one of the non-profit organizations to which he dedicated his life: The Crucible, Bay Area Bike Rescue, and the Cohen Bray House.

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