Posted: Aug.26, 2003
"GOOD NIGHT, SWEET PRINCE"
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
There can never be another funeral like the
one Delaware staged on a long Tuesday afternoon for James H. Gilliam
Jr., when the state's royalty laid to rest one of its own, one of
its finest, one of its irreplaceable.
All the essences of Delaware he touched in his
remarkable, tireless life were there. Politics. Law. Banking.
Education. Business. Fraternities. Charities. Churches. Clubs.
There were also the essences all his own.
Mother. Father. Wife. Sister. Daughters. Friends. So many friends
who were so different from one another that their only common bond
seemed to be Jim Gilliam Jr., whose greatest talent among so many
talents was his gift for bringing people together.
The governor came, as did the senators and the
congressman, the mayor and the chief justice, all paying their
respects to the one who needed no title, and so the Delaware royals
gave him one this day.
"Good night, sweet Prince," the speakers kept
saying. The Rev. Maurice J. Moyer, who officiated, said it. Chief
Justice E. Norman Veasey said it. Stacey J. Mobley, a DuPont Co.
senior executive and fellow lawyer, said it.
To say good-bye, it took more than three
hours, more than a thousand mourners, the cavernous Carpenter Center
at the University of Delaware in Newark, and the Morgan State
University Choir in a voice so powerful that the heavens had to know
Gilliam Jr. had departed.
Gilliam Jr. died last Wednesday, Aug. 20, at
the age of 58, untimely ripped from his family and from his state
that clearly adored him and counted on him. He had been a corporate
lawyer and investor, a Cabinet secretary, a banker, a trustee for
colleges and law schools, and a philanthropist.
Judges were named on his recommendation. A
revitalization began in Wilmington with his commitment. His
generosity to Morgan State, his alma mater in Maryland, helped to
create a performing arts center named for his parents, James H. Sr.
and Louise Hayley Gilliam.
Gilliam Jr. was a second-generation Gilliam to
make his mark in Delaware, which became home when the family moved
here in 1965 from Baltimore. Both parents were social workers by
training. Their son became a lawyer and their daughter Patrice a
Gilliam Sr. blazed the way as a housing
specialist, court administrator, New Castle County department
director and most recently in 1999 as the founder of the
Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League. As high as Gilliam Sr. set the
standard, Gilliam Jr. moved it higher.
Gilliam Jr. dissolved barriers, doing the hard
work himself, so others could follow. In the 1970s he became the
first African-American in Delaware in the Cabinet, where he was
appointed to be the secretary of Community Affairs and Economic
Development by Gov. Pierre S. du Pont. His selection was all the
more noteworthy because Gilliam Jr. was a Democrat in a Republican
administration. Gilliam Jr. was on his way.
The funeral drew one of those crowds that
could come together only in Delaware. Gilliam Jr. was a confidant to
Democratic Sen. Thomas R. Carper and helped him to unseat former
Republican Sen. William V. Roth Jr., but Roth was there with his
wife, U.S. Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth, whose family founded the law
firm of Richards Layton & Finger in which Gilliam Jr. once worked.
Louis J. Capano Jr., one of Gilliam Jr.'s closest friends, was a
speaker, and there in the crowd was William Swain Lee, the ex-judge
who sentenced Capano's brother.
The speakers spoke of their shock, their grief
and their friendships cut short. U.S. District Judge Gregory M.
Sleet read condolences sent from the citadels of power by former
President Bill Clinton and from the modest roots of the Monday Club,
so named because it was started in a darker time when Monday was the
day off for chauffeurs and they could relax together.
Carper was inspired by the Morgan State
choir's singing of a spiritual about "balm in Gilead" to go one
"There is a balm in Gilliam," Carper said.
"There's nobody like him, nobody like him. . . . People say he was a
role model for African-Americans, and I just think that's wrong. He
was a role model for all of us."
Ronald "Butch" Lewis, the boxing promoter,
talked about the way he always called his friend "Jim Dandy" after
the 1960s song with the refrain, "Jim Dandy to the rescue." He sang
Lewis also took a look at the dates of Gilliam
Jr.'s life, written as April 21, 1945-Aug. 20, 2003, and he said
that life is stored in the dash between the dates. "To compare our
dash with Jim, what a better place the world would be," Lewis said.
"Work on your dash."
Gilliam Jr. was eulogized by the Rev. Ward
Greer of Ezion-Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church of Wilmington. The
pastor said Gilliam Jr. lived the vision of community.
"He built bridges. He destroyed walls," Greer
said. "Glory, glory, glory hallelujah, thank you, Jim."
Gilliam Jr. died the week before the nation
observed the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington. On Aug.
28, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of having a dream,
"when we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village
and every hamlet, from every state and every city . . . when all of
God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles,
Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in
the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"
When King was killed, it was left to people
like Gilliam Jr. to bring the dream alive. As it showed at his
funeral, where so many Delawareans came together, he did.
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