Colleagues, friends express shock and sadness at loss of Dillard

Published 4:43 pm Thursday, March 30, 2023

NATCHEZ — Many in Natchez on Thursday expressed their shock and sadness at the unexpected loss on Wednesday of Natchez Sixth Ward Alderman Dan Dillard.

One of his daughters found Dillard at his home in Natchez, where he apparently died of natural causes sometime late Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.

Second Ward Alderman Billie Joe Frazier served on the Natchez Board of Aldermen through multiple terms with Dillard and said his fellow aldermen and the community could count on Dillard to be fair and do the right thing.

Email newsletter signup

“I am going to miss Dan. Dan was the accountant of the city,” Frazier said, meaning that Dillard made it his business to gain a thorough knowledge of the city’s finances and financial procedures. He was considered the watchdog of the budget among the aldermen.

“He knew the most about the city’s finances. You could always go to Dan and ask him different questions, and he would explain things to you. He is going to be truly missed by the aldermen. Dan was the type of person who didn’t see color. I could talk to him and regardless of our differences; Dan would see things your way, as long as it was the right thing. That’s the kind of man Dan was. I will miss his knowledge. This community will miss him, too,” Frazier said.

Tony Heidelberg, a Natchez attorney who is an official with the company that owned Magnolia Bluffs Casino since its inception until it was sold to Saratoga Gaming in 2022, said Dillard was an important member of the casino’s staff, calling him “Mr. Technical.”

“If it didn’t have numbers, it didn’t make sense to Dan,” Heidelberg said. “Dan had an advanced knowledge of plumbing and electrical and all kinds of building systems and because of that, he was our Mr. Fix It. He became our plant manager.”

Heidelberg knew the business side of Dillard, and the personal side, as well. He fondly recalls taking a trip to Indianapolis with Dillard.

“We were trying to bid on a casino in Terre Haute, Indiana, and I wanted Dan to fly up with me to talk to the Terre Haute City Council about our company and what we do in the community in Natchez.

“Here’s a little caveat about Dan. I picked him up that morning and we drove to Baton Rouge and everything was fine until we got in the airport. He was looking around like the airport like it was the eighth wonder of the world. That’s when I found out he had not flown commercially in 25 years,” Heidelberg said. “He said the last time he was in a plane, there were no instruments and they flew by following the highway. Watching him sit down in the first-class seat and poke his chest out so far… He was so funny. Dan was really proud about flying first-class to Indianapolis and talked about it often.

“Dan was an awesome soul. He loved to have fun when it was time to have fun. But when it was time for business, he was all business,” Heidelberg said. “When he disagreed with me or had to do something that was against my position, he always apologized to me, which was completely unnecessary. He always did what he thought was right. We are going to miss him. It really hurt me to hear the news that he was gone.”

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson on Wednesday afternoon expressed his sadness over Dillard’s death.

“We had such a wonderful visit last night after the meeting. We had a good talk with the fire chief, Alderman Davis and Alderman Dillard. We were discussing things we could do to better care for our firefighters and police officers. We were discussing their rate of pay, what we could do to attract more officers and firefighters.

“And we discussed the safety of Auburn and getting better smoke alarms and heat-sensing alarms for City Hall and other city property,” Gibson said. “Dan was our numbers guy, and he really kept a close watch and held us to a high standard of accountability of our public funds. We are going to miss that.”

Gibson was in Rolling Fork when he learned of Dillard’s death. He along with businesswoman Darby Short delivered items collected for that devastated community today. Short volunteered the use of her company’s truck to make that delivery.

“He was our mayor pro tem,” Gibson said. “We had our disagreements, but we always agreed to disagree. But when it came to what was best for Natchez, we could always agree. He was passionate about his position and he absolutely loved Natchez.”

Ward 3 Alderman Sarah Carter Smith served three terms with Dillard. 

“I feel like at first we started off as colleagues and became friends. We have children the same ages. And we had a similar approach to politics. We both believe in digging in and doing our homework,” she said.

“We talked on the phone a lot. He took pride in digging into the numbers and making sure things were correct. All of the aldermen appreciated his tenacity and determination. He trusted me and I trusted him. He will be missed. I will miss him,” Sarah Carter Smith.

She said she was happy his last day on this earth was a good one.

“I saw him at the meeting, and I saw him after the meeting at The Saloon. My daughter and my niece were in town and they like to play darts down there. Dan was down there and we hugged and talked about the good meeting we had. He was in a good mood at the meeting and was having a good time afterward. It makes me happy he was having a good day.”

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time at Laird Funeral Home.