Roosevelt 'Sandy' Gilliam: 1932-2014

  • Thursday, June 12, 2014

     UMES remembers "Coach" Gilliam 

    Sandy & Betty Gilliam, Sept. 2013PRINCESS ANNE, MD - (June 12, 2014) -- Roosevelt "Sandy" Gilliam Jr., a former athletic director and coach at Maryland State College (now University of Maryland Eastern Shore), died May 16 at his Lancaster, S.C. home after a lengthy illness. He was 81.

    Gilliam was a graduate of Allen University in Columbia, S.C., and earned a Master of Science degree from Indiana University. He got his start in athletics working in Lancaster County and his native Union County in South Carolina, where he quickly became a highly regarded and successful high school coach and administrator.

    Gilliam moved up to the collegiate ranks in 1962 to become Maryland State's athletic director, succeeding the legendary Vernon "Skip" McCain. During his six-year tenure in Princess Anne, he also served as head football coach and baseball coach, and assistant basketball coach.

    He took over one of the nation's most successful black-college football programs and did not disappoint, compiling a record of 24 wins, 11 losses and two ties. He recruited many of the Hawks' most dominant players of that era, including Billy Thompson, Emerson Boozer and Art Shell, all of whom had successful careers at the professional level.

    Gilliam's enduring legacy at Maryland State, however, was on the baseball diamond, where his teams won 211 of 226 games, a remarkable .934 winning percentage. Gilliam left college athletics in 1968 to become a scout for the Denver Broncos of the old American Football League.

    Gilliam eventually returned to South Carolina, where he worked in a series of high-profile jobs, including executive assistant to the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services; a 14-year career with the textile firm Springs Industries; and at S.C. State University, where he served as Vice President for Development and Industrial Relations and special presidential assistant for state and community relations. He often was appointed to boards and committees that dealt with pressing higher education issues in South Carolina.

    Near the end of his career, South Carolina's legislature singled out Gilliam for commendation with a concurrent resolution in 1988, a year after he was awarded the state's highest honor, the Order of the Palmetto, by former Gov. Dick Riley.

    Gilliam was inducted into the UMES Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999 and was similarly honored by his alma mater and by the S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1947 at age 15, and the Boy Scouts of America named him a Distinguished Eagle Scout in 1978 in recognition of his success as an adult.

    He last visited UMES in June 2013, where he was reunited with Shell, a student-athlete he recruited from the Charleston, S.C. area and whom he called the cornerstone of his success as a college coach. Three months later, Gilliam and his wife, Betty, attended the 2013 College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies where Shell was honored.

    Gilliam is survived by Betty Davis Gilliam, three children - Patrice, a guidance counselor, Wayne, a dentist, and Francis Roosevelt III, a cardiologist, and four grandchildren.

    Memorials may be made to Lancaster County Community Center, 500 E. Meeting St., Lancaster, S.C. 29720.