Vol. 19, No. 1Sept. 2, 1999

James H. Gilliam Sr. honored for career of public service

James H. Gilliam Sr. (left) receives an honorary degree from trustee Charles Cawley.

James H. Gilliam Sr. received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at New Student Convocation, Monday, Aug. 30.

Charles Cawley, chairman and CEO of MBNA America Bank and a member of the UD Board of Trustees, introduced Gilliam and presented him with the degree, calling him, "one of Delaware's finest" and "richly deserving of the award."

"This honor," Cawley said, "is given to individuals whose contributions to the quality of life in our state and nation call for exceptional recognition," noting that past recipients include artist Andrew Wyeth, former President George Bush and FBI Director Louis Freeh.

Cawley said he considers his friendship with Gilliam to be one of the most valuable in his lifetime and cited Gilliam's "strength of character, perseverance in the cause of fairness, optimism in every situation, unfailing kindness, intelligence, wit, self-effacing manner and his youthful outlook" as shining examples for everyone.

"Class of 2003, whomever each one of you is to become when you are 80--like Mr. Gilliam-starts now as you begin your life at the University. Look at men like Jim Gilliam as an example: He is one of the best men you will ever see. Today is an important day-today we celebrate promise with the Class of 2003 and accomplishment with Jim Gilliam at the same time."

Reading from the citation, Cawley paid tribute to Gilliam for his citizenship marked by the quest to uphold the inalienable rights and freedoms guaranteed by our country's founders and for his service in both World War II and the Korean War, where he received several honors, including a Bronze Star.

As a public servant, Cawley cited Gilliam's work as a member of the Delaware Advisory Committee for the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights, of the Judiciary Evaluation Committee for the Family Court of Delaware, the Supreme Court Professional Responsibility Committee and the Magistrate's Steering Committee.

He also noted Gilliam's work in the conversion of Family Court into a single statewide operation.

Gilliam also served as president and chairman of the board of Wilmington Community Housing Inc., and as a director of both Neighborhood and Housing Services and of the Greater Wilmington Development Council Inc. Additionally, he was a founder and the first executive director of the Greater Wilmington Housing Corp.

He served two terms as president of the National Association of Nonprofit Housing Organization and as a trustee of the National Urban League.

He also has been active on the boards of the United Way of Delaware, the Medical Center of Delaware and Wesley College.

He has received numerous awards, including the Liberty Bell Award, the Order of the First State, the J. Caleb Boggs Community Service Award and the Josiah Marvel Cup, all in recognition of service to the First State.

Today, Gilliam continues to be active with Community Housing Inc., the vocational school system, the YMCA, the Grand Opera House, the state correctional system's parole board and the grants committee of MBNA Education Foundation. He is in the process of founding a new Urban League of Delaware to provide important educational and economic programs and job-placement assistance for African Americans and other ethnic groups.

Gilliam has been married to his wife, Louise, for 55 years and has several children and grandchildren.

"George Bernard Shaw wrote, 'The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.' He must have been thinking of Jim Gilliam," Cawley concluded.

Upon accepting the award, Gilliam thanked the University and told the Class of 2003, "You are about to embark on a very significant period of your life. It will unquestioningly be a difficult journey filled with many difficult decisions. I thank God for you. We need you."

-Beth Thomas