As a hostage negotiator, he talked a father into releasing the daughter he was holding against her will, a chancy situation that James typically didn't talk much about. He faced more daunting challenges after he left the State Police and became involved with what the school district likes to call "at-risk" students sent to disciplinary schools.
James Arnold Gillison, who also was a leader in Masonic and Shriner organizations and proudly wore his colorful Shriner regalia at ceremonies and parades, died Tuesday of a heart attack. He was 67 and lived in Yeadon, but previously lived in West Philadelphia.
James also was in charge of security at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, and was on the security detail for President Gerald R. Ford's visits to Philadelphia.
He was a veteran of the Air Force, in which he served as a weapons mechanic stationed in Germany. He attained the rank of staff sergeant before his discharge in 1972.
James was born in Philadelphia to Dora Rausie Wilkie and James Henry Gillison. He graduated from Overbrook High School. He received a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from St. Joseph's University in 1978.
He married the former Bonnye Jones in 1973.
James worked at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard before joining the State Police as one of the few minority members. He later worked as a minority recruitment officer for the state police.
He was first assigned to the troop in Coudersport, Potter County, but later was transferred to Troop K in Philadelphia, where he spent most of his career.
After his retirement in 2001, he joined Community Education Partners, which formerly operated disciplinary schools in the city, as a security supervisor.
"Always a mentor, he loved his new job, applying his desire for teaching and his law-enforcement training," his family said.
Some of the students were considered hopeless cases, but James wouldn't hear of it.
As a Mason, James attained 33rd degree status, and he and his wife traveled to conventions in various cities, including Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Louis and Houston.
James was a longtime member of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, recently serving on the pastor's security detail.
Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, James Martin Gillison; a daughter, Lisa Marie Gebrehiwot; a sister, Valerie Coleman; and five grandchildren.
Services: 10 a.m. tomorrow at Mother Bethel AME Church, 419 S. 6th St. Friends may call at 8 a.m. Burial will be in Westminster Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd.