James H. Gilliam Jr., 58, attorney and benefactor

August 22, 2003|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

James H. Gilliam Jr. believed firmly in the adage: To whom much is given, much is required.

So close friends were not surprised in 2000 when Mr. Gilliam, a Baltimore-born lawyer and civic leader in Wilmington, Del., gave $1.5 million to Morgan State University, his alma mater.

Mr. Gilliam, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, died of a heart attack Wednesday at his Wilmington home, leaving his family and friends to mourn a man they say never tired of doing things for others. He was 58.

"He helped a lot of people," said John H. "Jake" Oliver Jr., publisher and chief executive officer of the Baltimore and Washington Afro-American newspapers. "God knows he helped so many young, black folk, particularly in Wilmington. ... He never forgot to reach back and to try whatever he could to help people - to give them advice, to provide networks."

Mr. Oliver and Mr. Gilliam grew up in the same block of Madison Avenue, and had been friends since age 4 when they attended kindergarten together. Mr. Oliver remembered how proud Mr. Gilliam was of his cousin, Brooklyn Dodgers infielder Jim Gilliam.

Mr. Gilliam was a student government leader at Baltimore City College and vice president of the Class of 1963. He went on to receive a bachelor's degree in English from Morgan State in 1967 and a law degree from Columbia University in 1970.

"He was a leader that everyone looked up to, and you always expected great things out of him," said Turhan Robinson, a City College classmate and close friend who is an assistant Maryland attorney general. "He was always conscientious. He always had a vision. ... You knew great things were going to come out of him."

Mr. Gilliam had a career of nearly two decades with Beneficial Corp., where his roles included serving as executive vice president and general counsel, and as chairman of its commercial banking subsidiary, Beneficial National Bank. He was on the boards of numerous other organizations and nonprofits, and was founding chairman of Wilmington 2000, established to assist in the city's redevelopment.

Among his numerous accomplishments were serving as Delaware's first African-American Cabinet secretary, under then-Gov. Pierre S. DuPont, and as chairman of Delaware's United Negro College Fund campaign.

Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson said the death of Mr. Gilliam, a member of the university's Hall of Hame, was a loss for everyone.

"Beyond his professional affiliation with the university, he was absolutely a fine individual, a sweet person," Mr. Richardson said. "He had obviously achieved great success in life, and he wanted to share it with others." Mr. Gilliam's father, James H. Gilliam Sr., and his sister, Patrice Gilliam-Johnson of Wilmington, are also Morgan graduates.

"I can recall his first conversation with me about the fine arts center," Mr. Richardson said. "When he came, he was talking about wanting to do something for the university and that he wanted, in the same gesture, to make a tribute to his parents."

The concert hall in Morgan's fine arts center is named in honor Mr. Gilliam's parents.

Besides his $1.5 million donation to his alma mater, Mr. Gilliam and his wife, the former Linda Johnson, served as co-chairs of the college's fund-raising campaign, which began about a year ago.

Turhan Robinson said that despite Mr. Gilliam's success, he always had time for others.

"Even though he ran up the corporate ladder, he was still grounded," Mr. Robinson said. "I'm going to miss him."

A memorial service is planned for noon Tuesday at the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware in Newark, after a viewing from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

In addition to Mr. Gilliam's wife, father and sister, survivors include his mother, Louise Hayley Gilliam of Wilmington; three daughters, Morgan Franklin of Wilmington, and Alexis Gilliam of Los Angeles and Leslie Gilliam of Chicago, both from a previous marriage to the former Randilyn Woodruff; and a nephew, Micah Johnson of Wilmington.

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