Gilliam, a Gainesville attorney, served as vice chairman of Gainesville Hall ’96 and helped oversee the preparations of the venue at Clarks Bridge Park. He looked back on his involvement with the Games.
How did you get involved in the Olympic effort?
Jim Mathis was asked by the city of Gainesville leaders to form a committee to seek out possible Olympic Games opportunities. Jim and I had worked on civic and charitable ventures before, and he asked me if I would join him in the this quest. I agreed and we formed Gainesville/Hall County ’96 Roundtable Inc. as a nonprofit legal entity to seek out those opportunities. Jim was the chair and I was vice chair and general counsel.
When it became apparent that the rowing and canoe kayak venue first planned for Rockdale County (which didn’t have water) and Stone Mountain (an island in the middle of the lake was in the way), Jack Pyburn, a local architect and rower, suggested Clarks Bridge Road area as being a great place for the venue. Jim and I started lobbying the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games for the venue. We also started lobbying the U.S. and international rowing federations and U.S. and international canoe-kayak federations to support the venue. We also lobbied the city of Gainesville and Hall County leaders because they owned the property on both sides of Lake Lanier, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
All of the governmental entities got behind us, and we were able to convince ACOG we had a venue with a lot of support and water. After we were awarded the venue, we enlarged Gainesville/Hall ’96 and added new members to committees for merchandise, security, housing of athletes and families, to name a few. With the help of Jack on the rowing side and other rowers, we created Lake Lanier Rowing Club, and on the kayaking side with the help of Gary Gaines, we created the Lake Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club, both of which still exist today.
We had hundreds of volunteers to welcome the international community of athletes and their families, as well as visitors to watch the Games. We had a live feed for the opening ceremonies at the Georgia Mountains Center. We had a committee to meet with ACOG venue managers, architects and contractors so the venue would be designed to be a permanent facility after the Olympics. We had a committee to meet with the local neighbors and businesses to keep them updated on the construction progress. We also were involved in and helped stage several test events prior to the Olympics. We had monthly luncheon meetings of volunteers and the public to keep the community informed as to the progress of the venue. We had a donated office with meeting rooms, and Mary Hart Wilheit was our volunteer, full-time unpaid executive director.
What is your fondest or most vivid memory from the Games?
There are so many, but two stand out. I was invited to Belgium for a week by the International Canoe Federation to attend the European Canoe Kayak Championship. Susan and I were treated so warmly by our hosts and not only saw the races but traveled all over Belgium. Not only did we have wonderful food and hospitality, we made many new international friends! When they came to Gainesville, I wanted to make sure they were treated as well, if not better.
Second, I was honored to be asked by the ACOG venue managers to welcome the hundreds of volunteers at the Mountains Center just before the Olympics. This included ACOG officials and officials of the sports all the way down to the wonderful parking lot attendants at Gainesville Junior College (now University of North Georgia). I taught them how to yell “Go Dawgs” and say “y’all,” and the plural of y’all, which is “all y’all.”
How has your involvement in the Olympics affected your life since?
I always have been involved in the community, but this acted as a springboard to become involved in other activities, both locally and statewide.