This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah civil rights pioneer James H. Gillespie, a World War II veteran, was transferred by the U.S. Army to Utah in the 1940s and stayed, working with the Defense Depot of Ogden and ultimately elected president of the Ogden chapter of the NAACP.
Gillespie, who held that office for 40 years, died Wednesday after a long illness. He was 88.
A longtime member of the Governor's Black Advisory Council, Gillespie received awards for his civil rights work. He was an outspoken critic of racism and discrimination, pointing to hiring practices in the government, businesses and the media over the years.
"I remember him coming to Washington, D.C., quite often when I was assistant to (Rep.) Wayne Owens, to discuss civil rights matters," said Ted Wilson, a former Salt Lake City mayor. "I later served with him on Project 2000, which evolved into Envision Utah. I was always struck by his pragmatic, straightforward approach. He didn't show a lot of passion, he just got right to the issue."
"I took he and his wife, Bettye, to dinner once in a restaurant in Ogden," remembers longtime community and civil rights activist Boyer Jarvis. "It was during the 1970s and I couldn't help notice the looks we received from patrons and servers in the restaurant, wondering what a white guy was doing dining with a black couple."
But Gillespie was undeterred, Jarvis recalled.
In 1981, when the police chief of Weber State College conducted a fake hold-up at the college's credit union to give tellers on-the-job training on what to do in the case of a real hold-up, Gillespie was outraged because the man chosen to be the robber was black.
Using a black police science student to pull a gun on two unsuspecting credit union tellers "was the worst stereotype I've seen since I've been in Utah," said Gillespie, who called for sanctions against the police chief.
In 1983, he called out local media organizations in 1983 for the lack of minorities on their news staffs.
"My own daughter graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in broadcast journalism," he said. "She applied at all the TV stations in the area and was turned down."
Gillespie retired from the federal government in 1996 after 42 years of service. And that year, former Ogden Mayor Glenn Mecham declared Oct. 5 as James Harding Gillespie Day.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, six children, nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Meyer's Mortuary in Ogden.
This is a corrected version of the original story, which mentioned a wrong day of James Gillespie's funeral. The service is Wednesday.