By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published May 3, 2007
Anthony R. (Tony) Dees, the first archivist for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, died Sunday, April 29. He was 69.
Born in Goldsboro, N.C., on Sept. 19, 1937, Mr. Dees received his bachelor’s degree in English and his master’s degree in library science from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
He began his career as a librarian at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va., and then at the University of Georgia in Athens, where he later became the director of the Georgia Room and curator of manuscripts. He subsequently became director of the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah and several years later came to Atlanta as the assistant director of the Georgia Department of Archives and History.
Mr. Dees was hired as the archdiocesan archivist in 1992, but first worked as a consultant in 1990, when the archdiocese asked him to make recommendations for the organization of the archives, which at that time was stored in boxes in a room off the Catholic Center’s parking garage.
He developed the archives system for the archdiocese, created the archives office when space and funding were found in 1995, and expanded the holdings of the archives up until he retired from the position in 1999.
In an interview with The Georgia Bulletin in 1999, Mr. Dees spoke of his love for his work with the archdiocese.
“It was a very fun job and a wonderful culmination of my career of 39 years,” he said. “Not many people have the chance to establish an archives. Usually when you start a job, the archives is already in place and you make your own contribution. But establishing the archives for the archdiocese was an exciting challenge.”
In another interview with the Bulletin, he spoke of his respect for the physical elements of history he held in his hands.
“Everything we have is priceless as a piece of the mosaic of the church of Atlanta,” he said. “One has to have a feel, respect and love for history and the documents that make history” in order to work with archives.
Upon his retirement, Mr. Dees continued to serve as a consultant for the archdiocese working as a project manager for a grant to restore the historic Catholic cemetery in Locust Grove. He was instrumental in the process of getting Locust Grove on the National Registry of Historic Places, said John Hanley, current archivist.
“That is just another of Tony’s legacies that will be safe and protected,” he said.
A longtime parishioner of Atlanta’s Sacred Heart Church, one of the oldest churches in the diocese, Mr. Dees also worked after his retirement to organize the parish’s many historic documents and records. In addition, he served as a member of the diocese’s jubilee committee, which marked 2006 as Atlanta’s 50th year as an established diocese. He also served as a consultant on Hanley’s 2006 book that documented the history of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
“I considered him my mentor,” Hanley said. “Whenever I needed any guidance or had a question about anything, he was the first person I would call.”
Hanley credited Mr. Dees and the late Sally Grubbs, who served as personal secretary to the first five archbishops of Atlanta, with keeping the archdiocese’s history alive.
“If not for him and for Sally Grubbs, we would not have the foundation we have today. They were really responsible for finding and saving all the important historical documents.”
“Tony was really devoted to the archives. He had a special love for history, and specifically for Georgia history and church history,” Hanley said. “Really, these last 16 years culminated in the interest and love for church history and for his own faith.”
A memorial Mass for Mr. Dees, whose body was cremated, was to be celebrated May 3 at Sacred Heart Church.
He is survived by a brother, Winston Dees, of Goldsboro, N.C., and several other relatives.
Donations may be made to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Restoration Fund, 353 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30308, or to the Atlanta Humane Society, 981 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, GA 30318.