We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Michelle Marie Gilliam, 57, of Newport News, Virginia. She left us on December 18, 2023, after a valiant battle with Breast Cancer.
Michelle was born in Fairmont, West Virginia on March 15, 1966 to Charles and Estelle Gilliam. As a proud Army “brat”, she was able to travel the world before attending and graduating from Marymount University. Michelle interned in the White House for Vice President George H. W. Bush, fundraised for Bob Dole on the Senatorial Committee and went on to receive her Master’s Degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.
She created her one-woman show, where she played over twenty women and each performance benefited local theatres and artists/women in need. She then immersed herself in Virginia Performing Arts over the next three decades. As Special Assistant to President Trible at Christopher Newport University, Michelle assisted in fundraising events across the Commonwealth and performing arts activities on campus that helped create the Ferguson Center for the Arts. As founding director of the Downing Gross Cultural Arts Center, Michelle oversaw its construction, founding programming and partnerships. She created the Ella Fitzgerald Music Festival, now in its 25th year as well as other lasting tributes to the First Lady of Song in Newport News. She supervised the Ella Fitzgerald Theatre and gallery spaces at the Downing Gross Cultural Arts Center fostering every opportunity to support performing and visual artists developing their craft. She was the Cultural Supervisor for the city of Newport News, where she booked and managed entertainment for all outdoor stages at large city festivals and events.
Michelle’s biggest passion in life was the arts. All of the arts. She had a flare for writing, directing, acting, singing and could leave a sold-out theatre speechless with her imaginative scripts and breathtaking monologues. Michelle was a master of words, and though she did accomplish many things in her life – her ability to use words to evoke emotions, capture audiences and change lives cannot be overstated.
She was preceded in death by her mother, Estelle Marie Gilliam and is survived by her father, Charles Edward Gilliam, Sr., brother, Charles Edward Gilliam, Jr. (Belinda), sister, Deborah Lynn Glover (Michael), sister-in-love, Catharine Ko and her precious daughter, Arden Estelle Gilliam. She is also survived by her much-loved nieces and nephews (her “honeybees”) Michelle Marie Moore (DeAuntre), Tiara Carol Nicole Cosmo, Ashli Aurelia-Marie Gilliam, Christopher Charles Edward Gilliam and Samantha Nicole Glover. Also left to cherish her memory are her treasured great nieces and nephews Jamal, Ali, Mariah, Dre, Tyius, Mason, Kennedi, Beau and Aubri. As a historian to such a large family, there are hosts of other family members by whom she will also be missed.
Of all the bright lights in Michelle’s life, the brightest light was and remains her daughter Arden. Ari. Dessa. Perfectly sung in a song Michelle dedicated to Arden long ago, “This miracle God gave to me, gives me strength when I am weak, I find reason to believe in my daughter’s eyes.” In all of life, but especially when it was time to fight – Arden
was just that – Michelle’s light, her strength and her reason.
“She is a daughter, a sister, a mother, a thriver, a warrior.”