Gary Lillie remembered for his kindness, generosity in wake of fatal crash
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A real estate agent by profession, Gary Lillie is remembered by many in Washtenaw County for his interest in nature that set him apart from peers in the field.
For many years, Lillie worked to transform and sell vacant land. He also owned and operated Gary Lillie & Associates, Inc., a commercial real estate firm.
“He was about the only real estate person in Ann Arbor who was comfortable getting his shoes dirty,” said Lew Kidder, a former lawyer and broker who worked with Lillie for many years. “Gary was willing to get his shoes wet and tramp around through the wetlands and show people.”
Those memories are what friends and co-workers across the county are recalling after Lillie was killed Thursday night in a crash a short distance from his home in Scio Township. Washtenaw County Sheriff’s deputies said Lillie, 70, was walking on Marshall Road at around 11:30 p.m. when he was struck and killed by a suspected drunken driver.
Deputies said the 43-year-old driver left the scene, but later returned to find witnesses with Lillie.
He was expected to be arraigned at 10 a.m. Saturday on charges resulting from the crash.
Dustin Gellman, a long-time friend of Lillie’s, recalled working in his office as an assistant at the age of 17, while still attending Pioneer High School. Today, Gellman is the founder of Catylist, a real-estate marketing and research company known nationally.
Lillie sent Gellman to get his real estate license at the age of 18 and he continued working as Lillie’s apprentice through college. Lillie eventually became the first investor in Gellman's business, which today provides commercial real estate data for the entire state of Michigan.
“From the moment we met, Gary became a father figure—a permanent fixture at vacations, holidays, graduations and weddings,” Gellman said, remembering time the two spent hiking through national parks and “visiting every corner of the U.S.”
“Gary is the most generous, kind person I have ever known, and gave me the courage to succeed in the world.”
The two also traveled together to Hill 35, where Lillie served while in Vietnam. There, Lillie was able to pray and make peace with the experiences he had, Gellman said.
Lillie become a strong advocate for veterans and went on to host a weekly AM broadcast program called Veterans Radio.
Kidder, the lawyer who worked with Lillie, sold him the property on Marshall Road where he later built his home. Kidder recalled how Lillie shared stories of wildlife he observed in the area.
He remembered seeing a video Lillie had recorded of a deer running into a cat in his backyard.
“There they were, kind of, two animals meeting each other and just a deer bending down and touching noses with a cat.”
“It was quite a wildlife refuge out there,” Kidder said, of the Marshall Road residence.
The men worked less together through the 1990s, but Lillie often came to Kidder with questions about land, asking for advice or a second opinion. When Kidder moved into a new home in Ann Arbor, Lillie appeared with several saplings to plant in the yard—one, a cherry tree that now stands almost 20 feet tall.
Randy Dickerman, who lived next door to Lillie on Marshall Road, recalled how his neighbor planted grass to bring deer into the backyard.
The handful of cats running around Lillie’s property somehow seemed to multiply through the years—a testament to his neighbor’s love for animals.
“I guess he gave out a better handout than I did,” Dickerman said. “He just enjoyed looking out his back window there and watching the wildlife.”
Funeral arrangements for Lillie are pending.