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A Catholic you want to know: Dorothy Gillam

St. Bartholomew parishioner helps bring Communion to the sick

Published: December 16, 2017   
Aprille Hanson
Dorothy Gillam, 83, a member of St. Bartholomew Church in Little Rock, leads the committee with her husband John to take Communion to the sick.

Why you want to know Dorothy Mae Clayborne Gillam: She grew up attending St. Bartholomew School in Little Rock and converted to the Catholic faith while in grade school when “those sweet little nuns talked me into it.” She has remained dedicated to St. Bartholomew Church. For several years, she sang in the choir and made the monthly liturgy schedule. Dorothy and her husband John lead the committee to administer Communion to the sick and shut-ins. She retired in 2015 after working for the Arkansas Department of Education for 51 years.

Parish: St. Bartholomew Church

City: Little Rock

Age: 83

Family: Husband John Gillam, married for 37 years; children, Thomas Clayborne and Diane McKinstry; one grandson, one great-granddaughter.



Arkansas Catholic’s theme this year is “The Truth will set you free.” What is your favorite Bible verse and why?
I find myself saying, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” I say that a lot. It just hits me and I say it. I need a shepherd in my life and the Lord is my shepherd.

You had numerous titles with the Department of Education, including executive secretary to the education commissioner. What did that entail?
Way back then, I took a lot of minutes and shorthand. I took minutes of board meetings … and rushed back to my office and typed it up while I could still remember some of that stuff. We did not have all the stuff we have now … I scheduled the commissioner of education for all of his or her appointments.

You were the first black person to work with all the schools in the department. What was that like?
That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? In fact, when I accepted the job I didn’t realize I would be integrating the department because there were three blacks working in the Department of Education, but they only worked with all-black schools. And when I got there I worked for all of the schools in the state. It was in, most instances, not pleasant. I still remember one day right after I got to work there this woman that worked in the office with me she had a visitor who had worked at the department years before I got there. This woman passed my desk and she stopped and looked at me and stopped and looked at the lady who was visiting … she said, “Aren’t you glad you left here before that came.” I had to deal with it in a lot of ways. I had to pray, I’ll tell you for sure.

Upon retirement you were honored for your years of service. What did you enjoy about the job?
The Commission of Education recognized me in the State Board of Education the week I was retiring. I just enjoyed having a job, and I’m glad I was able to work with the people in the office where I worked.

As a child, you converted from the Baptist faith to Catholicism. What do you enjoy most about being Catholic?
I believe that’s the best place for me. I really can’t see me in any other faith.

You and your husband John take Communion to the sick and shut-ins. How is that spiritually fulfilling?
They seem to like having us come to them. We usually share some kind of spiritual devotion with them and visit with them for a few minutes according to who they are and if we can detect how they’re feeling. It seems to be uplifting to them and it’s certainly uplifting to us.

After Sunday Mass, you take the purificators used during Communion home to wash them. What is that process and why do it?
I remember years ago that sweet little nun teaching me how to do this. I soak them and then I squeeze the water out, this sounds silly I guess, into that little pan, I take the pan outside whether it’s hot or cold, sleeting, raining or whatever, toss the water from the purificators and take the pan back (so it goes back to the earth and not down the drain) … I feel like I’m doing something extra that Jesus would like for me to do.

What are some of your hobbies?
Horse racing. We haven’t gone for the last several months, but we used to go down to Oaklawn park (in Hot Springs) and play the horses. We love doing that.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated how many years Dorothy and John Gillam have been married. This article has been updated.

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