Remembrance 1941-2013: Peter Abreu. A public man, private person

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ROSWELL, Ga. – Peter Michael Abreu, who died Aug. 12, came to live in Roswell in 1955 when he was just 12 years old. Few people knew then what a red-letter day that was for the city he grew to love dearly.

But over the years, the appreciation of that love and the deeds that came with that love came to gel and take form so that by Nov. 15, 2000, Mr. Abreu was honored by the Smith Plantation Preservationists Trust as its first-ever Roswell Citizen of the Year.

Who better to bestow the award on than a man who had done so much for what is today known as Historic Roswell? When I first met Peter, I was the newly minted editor of the Roswell Revue (we added the “& News” later).

I was prowling the basement floor of City Hall for the director of the Roswell Historic District and came upon a gruff fellow in a small, cluttered office. He owned up to being the man I sought, so I told him I was interested in learning about the Historic District.

That was my first history lesson about Roswell, and I could not have found a better teacher than Peter Abreu. He had an abiding love for his city and its history. He took the job of Historic Roswell District director because he wanted to preserve the history and the character of the city.

When you look down present-day Canton Street, remember that Peter was one of the prime visionaries for turning it into a national showplace.

Another of his great loves was Bulloch Hall, one of the city’s crown jewels of antebellum life. Pam Billingsley is site coordinator at Bulloch and knows firsthand of Peter’s abiding support.

“When you met Peter, you just knew here was a down-to-earth guy. He would often open his home [Northwind] as a meeting place or host a gala or a fundraiser. He was chairman three times of the Magnolia Ball, Bulloch’s big fundraiser,” Billingsley said.

“Peter was not just a sponsor of Bulloch, he was a true friend.”

As chairman of distribution for the family trust, the May P. and Francis L. Abreu Charitable Trust, he devoted much of his life to philanthropy. In addition to Bulloch, he was a patron to the Atlanta Humane Society, the Woodruff Arts Center, the North Fulton Community Foundation, the Chattahoochee Nature Center, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the Shepherd Center, North Fulton Community Charities and many more worthy causes.

His family describes him as a passionate outdoorsman who loved to hunt quail and fish. If you wanted to see him perk up, just bend the conversation to good bird dogs or fine shotguns.

Often I would find Peter outside the Bill Johnson Community Activities Building chatting with fellow Rotarians, one of his wooden tipped cheroots clamped in his jaw, talking about hunting. Whatever the topic, you knew where Peter stood.

As the Rev. Malone Dodson, his minister of many years at Roswell United Methodist Church, put it most succinctly in his eulogy of Peter:

“You always knew what Peter was thinking … Because he told you.”

He was just as blunt about historical preservation.

“He told me what was sacred in Roswell and what was not,” Dodson said. “What was historical and what was hysterical.”

Peter was not a man to say a lot. But when something needed doing, then you could count on him, Dodson said.

Many people also remember the Easter egg hunts he had for children at Northwind. You could often find him indulging another of his passions around his home – gardening. He moved with ease through the Buckhead and Roswell elite, among the board rooms of many great Atlanta institutions, but he was perhaps most at home in his khakis tending his vegetables and fruit trees.

Perhaps the best summation of Peter’s life came from his friend Louise DeLong, longtime director of the Archibald Smith Plantation Home Preservationists.

“You can’t really put into words the breadth and depth Peter has had on Roswell,” said DeLong. “You just have to accept he has made a big, big difference in just about every way a person can in a city like Roswell.”

He is survived by his loving wife, Carol Gaissert Abreu, children Peter Michael Abreu Jr., Claire E. Abreu and Katherine M. Abreu; grandchildren William Avery Abreu, Aerynne May Abreu and Grayson Michael Theodore Abreu.