Jerry Dilts, who was, variously, architect and builder, opera lover and gourmand, taste-maker, restauranteur, bar owner, caterer and always an Atlanta institution, died at Hospice Atlanta on October 29, 2015 after a brief and dignified battle with cancer. He managed his illness as he had his life: By sending invitations to 100 of his friends and family, inviting them to join him in "A Celebration." Now 81 and longtime Parkinson's patient, it was obvious that the celebration was for the long, full life of Jerry Dilts. Everyone on the list came to greet their host at his final party.
Mr. Dilts is survived by David J. MacGilvray, his partner in life, as well as in business, for 35 years, and nephews, L. William Bill Dilts III, John Hodges Dilts, and Douglas Riggs Bucky Dilts.
Mr. Dilts was the second son of L. William and Mildred Adele Hodges Dilts. He was mistakenly born in Birmingham, but the family moved to Atlanta when he was an infant. Aside from assignment as supply officer Lieutenant JG serving in U.S. Navy Mediterranean Fleet during the 1950s, he lived in Atlanta for the rest of his life. He attended Morningside Elementary and O'Keefe Middle School, and was in the first graduating class of Northside High School in 1952. Mr. Dilts attended Georgia Tech, where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. He graduated with a B.S. degree from the School of Architecture at Georgia Tech. He was commissioned in the U.S. Navy after completing Naval ROTC at Tech.
Mr. Dilts began his working career as a salesman for a family apparel manufacturing business that later became a division of Genesco, Inc. His father died in 1959. His mother was among the 106 Atlanta civic and cultural leaders who died in the plane crash at Orly Airport in Paris in June, 1963. The tragedy spurred the creation of the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center, the home of the city's hallmark cultural institutions, including the High Museum of Art, the Atlanta Symphony, the Alliance Theatre, and the Atlanta College of Art. Mr. Dilts was a devoted supporter of these institutions for the rest of his life.
In 1964, Mr. Dilts created the Lion's Head English Pub, the singular Buckhead bar and restaurant that became the template for five decades of Northside night life. His enduring love of opera -- he had sung roles in local productions, including Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio -- led him to build friendships with artists and managers of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. When segregation laws prohibited the cast of the Metropolitan Opera from eating in Atlanta restaurants, Mr. Dilts hosted an Opening Night party at the Lion's Head for the cast and company during one of its appearances on tour during the late 1960s. He wore black tie to escort the star of Aida, Leontyne Price, into his pub.
Shortly after beginning the Lion's Head, he launched Jerry Dilts Catering. With the arrival of David J. MacGilvray in 1980, the business was rechristened Jerry Dilts and Associates. Mr. MacGilvray soon took over supervising the food operations, while Mr. Dilts managed everything else for what quickly became one of Atlanta's premier catering companies.
Mr. Dilts served as the Ansley Park Architectural Consultant and on the community's Governing Board during the 1960s and 1970s. He was a Member of the Cathedral of St. Philip and the Cherokee Town and Country Club. He sang tenor in the chorus for the Atlanta Symphony's summer series performances and was a member of the Huff & Puffs, a local men's choir. He was also noted in the 1967 listings of Outstanding Atlantans and was one of the initiators of the Atlanta Ski Club. Mr. Dilts was a long-time supporter of the arts and a particular patron of the Atlanta Opera, the Atlanta Symphony, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Atlanta Preservation Society.
A memorial service will be held at the Cathedral of St. Philip at 2:00 pm of Tuesday, November 10, 2015 followed by private interment at St. Anne's Episcopal Church. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Atlanta Opera in Mr. Dilts' memory.