Former Greenville city manager will be remembered for contributions to community, faith
By John C. Stevenson
John Joseph Dullea will be remembered in Greenville as a man who helped bring about downtown’s late-20th century renaissance, but his daughter, Kara, said she will remember her father as a spiritual man who always made time for his family.
Dullea died May 2 at age 94. He built a lifetime career of public service, including 20 years as Greenville’s city manager, from 1971 to his retirement in 1991.
“He was just a kind and gentle soul,” Kara Dullea recalled recently. “He was in city government his whole life, and from when we were born, that’s all we knew Dad as doing. So he was constantly in late-night meetings and getting home from work late at night, but he’d always take the time to go to our swim meets and our basketball and soccer games – whatever we had, all the functions.”
Dullea, a Manchester, New Hampshire, native, began his career in 1951 in Westchester, New York. His career would include stops in six cities, including his final destination, Greenville. He joined Greenville as city manager the same year Max Heller began his tenure as the city’s mayor.
At the time of Dullea’s hiring, the new mayor suggested to the media that the pair should have a working arrangement: “I have no intention of being city manager,” he said, “and I hope Mr. Dullea has no intention of being mayor.”
In a letter written to Dullea on the occasion of his 1991 retirement from the city, Heller included a hand-written note that said “Do you remember our deal? I wont (sic) try to be city manager – if – you wont try to be mayor!! – We kept our promise – it worked.”
The men’s eight-year collaboration proved to be a bellwether period for Greenville. During those years, the city adopted the use of public-private partnerships to revive the ailing downtown – an idea Dullea had seen used successful years earlier in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. That idea would come to fruition initially in a partnership with the Hyatt Corp. and the construction of the Hyatt Greenville, which came with the city’s commitment to transform Main Street from a four-lane thoroughfare to a two-lane, pedestrian-friendly city center.
Almost a decade later, the city would enter into a similar public-private partnership, resulting in the construction of the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, a major downtown attraction.
Also in the early 1970s, Dullea proposed the city adopt Tax Increment Financing, which was passed into law in 1973. Through TIFs, the city was able to invest in a variety of major projects that continue to draw revenue into Greenville.
His 1991 retirement did not signal an end to Dullea’s service to others. A lifelong Catholic, Dullea shifted his focus to helping individuals and families.
“Dad really just used that time, once he retired from the city, to get super involved with the church,” Kara Dullea said. “He was a very devout Catholic – we went to church every Sunday; he did lots of Bible studies, even when he was working, and helped the church and gave a lot in terms of time to the church. But he really dedicated the time he had on his hands during retirement to the church, and most particularly to St. Mary’s and the programs that came out from that particular church in Greenville.”
One of those, the Poverella program, gave Dullea the chance to work as a mentor to several local families that were dealing with financial hardships. He also helped establish, and served in, eucharistic ministries at Greenville Memorial and St. Francis hospitals.
The family said Dullea had been in generally good health until a stroke just a week prior to his death.
Dullea left behind Elizabeth (Lib), his wife of 61 years; three children, Stephanie Owens, Mark Dullea and Kara Dullea; five grandchildren; several nieces and nephews; and two brothers.