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John Burris awarded Delaware chamber’s Gilman Bowl

Katie Tabeling


Martha Gilman, left, Cathy Burris, John M. Burris, and Brett Gilman Smith with the Gilman Bowl | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE STATE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

WILMINGTON — Honoring his decades of service to Delaware’s businesses and the way the state does its business, John M. Burris was awarded the prestigious 13th Gilman Bowl during the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s annual Superstars in Business award ceremony on Wednesday.

Burris, who could not attend the luncheon at the Hotel DuPont, was stunned when Martha Gilman and her son Brett Gilman Smith arrived on his doorstep last week and told him the news. In a recorded interview presented at the ceremony, Burris’s mouth dropped open with surprise and told the pair, “Oh God, you’re something else.”

“This tribute is special and means a lot to me, and hopefully you haven’t run out of candidates,” Burris joked. “While the Gilman Bowl is special, the small business awards are also important. “It’s people like Mike Uffner, Mark Stellini, Bill Topkis, and others who kept telling me that the State Chamber isn’t just a chamber to large businesses, it was small business who was the rockbed of the organization.”

The Gilman Bowl, the pinnacle of the 23rd Annual Marvin S. Gilman Superstars in Business, celebrates the state’s business leaders’ contributions to the community as well as their own field. Marvin S. Gilman, an celebrated developer and economist, is lauded as a paragon of Delaware small business.

The identity of the recipient of the Gilman Bowl is traditionally confidential until its presentation at the awards ceremony. The honor is reserved for one person who has made outstanding contributions to Delaware’s small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Born in Milford, Burris founded and led Burris Bandag and Kent/Sussex Tire Service Inc. in 1971. Moving from that enterprise, he also served as vice president of the family business, Burris Logistics, a company that runs a network of temperature-controlled warehouse and distribution centers stretching from Connecticut to Florida and as far west as Oklahoma. He stepped down from that position this year after four decades.

During this time, he also built a career in Delaware politics and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1976. He became the first Republican in 20 years elected to represent District 36, which covers Milford and Ellendale. He held his seat for three terms, and served as House Minority Leader in 1978 and Majority Leader from 1979 to 1982.

During his tenure in the General Assembly, he helped lead the effort to save the Chrysler plant from closure, which saved 3,500 jobs, and helped secure the passage of the Financial Center Development Act, which brought the state over 45,000 financial services jobs. Burris also mounted a campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1984 against now-President Joe Biden and for governor in 2000. He lost both races.

After stepping down from Burris Logistics, he now serves as vice chairman of MediGuide International LLC and president and CEO of The Burris Firm, a law firm that specializes in intellectual property protection.

Even after all these accomplishments, Burris reflected that the greatest was with the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of 57,000 small businesses. 

He became president of the organization in 1990, and helped establish the Delaware Principal for a Day, Superstars in Education, the Delaware Public Policy Institute. He also oversaw the opening of a tourism office in Bridgeville and re-engaging with the Delaware Manufacturing Association.

“The chamber has really taken to heart the [mission of serving small businesses]. All my friends at the chamber put up with me for 10 years, especially my wife, but really the best 10 years of my life were at the chamber,” Burris said. “This is full circle.”

The ceremony also honored eight companies ranging in sizes and nonprofits as Superstars in Business and Award in Excellence. 

This year, Superstars in Business included Weiner Benefits Group, a financial services firm with roots tracing back to 1938; Harvey, Hanna & Associates, a full-services commercial development company that delivered the Amazon LogistiCenter on Boxwood Road; Adesis, a contract chemical research organization, and Faithful Friends Animal Society, a no-kill animal center that recently broke ground on a new facility in Christiana.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar photo
    Andrew D Stayton November 4, 2021

    A hardy congratulations to “Big John Burris” and also to his biggest supporter his wife Cathy!


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