He was a Navy vet who dealt in construction equipment. He liked hunting, and billiards. But Peter Gilyard had a soft side – and a big love for beach music.
Frequent pool partner Dennis Kirchdoerfer remarked, “ When a shag dance song would play on the jukebox, he’d get up and do something like a soft shoe. I used to think, ‘I wish I could dance like that.’ ”
Peter French Gilyard of Atlanta died Sept. 13 of a heart attack. He was 67.
A memorial service was planned at 5 p.m. Friday (Sept. 21) at A.S. Turner and Sons Funeral Home, Decatur, with a reception will follow.
Mr. Gilyard was born in Winston-Salem, N.C. His sister, Harriet Gilyard of Branford, Conn., said, “Dad worked for Dun & Bradstreet, and they sent him south to open a new office. He met Mom there.”
Firstborn Harriet was joined later by brother Tom and baby brother Peter. When the family moved to Lewisville, N.C., young Peter found one of the loves of his life.“When he was 10 or 11, he attended Dormitory Studios of Dance, Drama and Music. He studied dance. Later, he joined a school dance club. Since this was in the Carolinas, they taught the Carolina shag.”
Designated the state dance of South Carolina, the shag is thought to have been born at beach parties in the coastal Carolinas.
Mr. Gilyard eventually joined the Navy, serving in Europe. He came to Atlanta 20 years ago and founded Brookhaven Bobcat, a construction grading equipment company. Over the years, he kept the beat, and kept competing at shag dancing events.
Ms. Gilyard said her brother went back to South Carolina beach dances “time after time,” and won “many, many” plaques at dancing competitions throughout the South. “He was an excellent dancer.” One of his favorite spots was Fat Harold’s Beach Club in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Roy Tuck of Chamblee met Mr. Gilyard more than 20 years ago through the dance organization ShagAtlanta. The pair attended many events hosted by Society of Stranders and ShagAtlanta. “When you went somewhere with him, he would know half of the people there by the time he left,” said Mr. Tuck.
Dennis Kirchdoerfer met Mr. Gilyard at Mr. Cues Billiards. “That was the beginning of our beautiful friendship,” he said. “I became part of a ‘corps of four.’ The oldest at our table was 89, and the youngest, 62. “
He said the quartet met Tuesdays and Thursdays at the pool hall, where they traded good-natured barbs. “We would really dig at each other,” he said. “The needle was always out.”
Barbs aside, there was also a brotherhood, what Mr. Kirchdoerfer called “that inner circle.” When one member was missing, the others would often go looking for him. When Mr. Kirchdoerfer had a heart attack, Mr. Gilyard went to his home, where he heard that his friend had fallen ill. “He was very sweet , and sensitive to other people’s feelings,” said Mr. Kirchdoerfer.
William “Dub” Doyle (the foursome’s oldest member) recalled Mr. Gilyard fondly. “He was very likable, and he did not meet a stranger. If there was something he could help you with, he’d do it,” he said.
Mr. Gilyard was also a longtime member of Fraternal Order of Eagles in Doraville, where his sister said he was called “Uncle Petey”. Fellow FOE member Dave Roberts remarked, “he had a good soul, and was always willing to give.”
In addition to Harriet Gilyard, survivors include a daughter, Misty Shea; several nieces and nephews, and several great-nieces and great-nephews.