Jeffrey D. Dillman passed away peacefully but unexpectedly on January 22. Jeff was a co-director of Legal Aid of NC’s Fair Housing Project, which seeks to challenge housing discrimination on both an individual and systemic level throughout our state.
Jeff’s untimely passing at the age of 58 has taken away both a dear friend as well as a leader in the fight to further fair housing in North Carolina and nationally. His principled and passionate pursuit of justice epitomized the ideal legal aid lawyer. He served—and we hope that his memory continues to serve—as a model for both work and life, for his colleagues and friends.
Testament to Jeff’s dedication are the many notable successes the Fair Housing Project enjoyed under his leadership. Here is a sampling:
- Housing Discrimination Case in Greenville Continues after One Defendant Sentenced to 28 Months in Federal Prison for Racial Harassment
- Builders, Architects, Owners of 5 NC Housing Complexes Settle Discrimination Cases; Agree to Make $1.3 million in Accessibility Modifications
- SkyHouse Apartments Settle Fair Housing Cases for $1.8 million: Money to help make homes more accessible for people with disabilities
- Fidelity Bank Agrees to Invest $1 Million to Settle Discrimination Complaint
- Scotland County Housing Group Settles Fair Housing Case for $2.7 Million
If you knew Jeff, then you know that words alone cannot adequately convey who he was as a person and colleague. However, for those who did not have the privilege of knowing him, we hope that the following remembrances from his closest colleagues provide at least a glimpse into his character and the difference he made for victims of housing discrimination in North Carolina.
“Jeff was an incredible advocate and person. Extremely knowledgeable and experienced in all fair housing issues, he remained humble and always willing to work together with others in the fight for our clients and against housing discrimination. Jeff’s humor, warmth and commitment to social and economic justice, guided his work and his life. He was a comrade and a friend. I will miss him dearly.
-Jack Holtzman, Co-Director, Fair Housing Project
“When I think of someone with great integrity, I often think of Jeff. There was just no one like him. He was unique and he was very generous. He was a singular individual in terms of his intelligence, his passion, and his capacity for hard work. He was just extraordinary in every respect, and he was a young man who left us much too early.”
—George Hausen, Executive Director
“Jeff was just the best and we miss him dearly. We’re just going to try and continue to do the work the way that Jeff wanted us to. He was just remarkable.”
—Kelly Clarke, Supervising Attorney, Fair Housing Project
“This has been a deeply sad time for us at the Fair Housing Project. I know he touched a lot of lives, and he was truly one of the very best people I’ve ever known. He was caring and generous and always willing to help a colleague. I am privileged to have known him, to have learned from him, to have had him as a boss and mentor. I know I’m a better advocate and a better person for knowing him, and I will miss him dearly.”
—Lauren Brasil, Supervising Attorney, Fair Housing Project
“Back in November, I joined the Fair Housing Project as an attorney, and I was just thrilled beyond belief to be able to work with Jeff and learn from him. I am so impressed with his core competence with everything he did. He was an amazing leader and amazing friend, and he was such an advocate for everyone. He really encouraged me so much in my work and I will deeply miss him.”
—Hope Williams, Attorney, Fair Housing Project
“Jeff was one of the best supervisors I have had the privilege of working with. He was always calm and easy going, compassionate, helpful, and ready to provide guidance if I needed it. He always had time for a quick question and encouraged my professional growth. I will never forget his kindness.”
—Andrea Johnson, Paralegal and Assistant Testing Coordinator, Fair Housing Project
“Jeff was an incredible manager, and you could see the love that his staff had for him. Jeff always had time for people. As committed as he was to getting the work right, the human side of Jeff was something that I know his staff really appreciated and that I appreciated. He was always a terrific advocate for his staff, in all different forums.”
—Suzanne Chester, Managing Attorney, The Child’s Advocate
“Jeff was one of the original people that jumped in as a volunteer to our Diversity Working Group. I didn’t get a ton of men lining up to volunteer for that. Jeff made every meeting, and he didn’t try to take over. The type of man that he was, I hope we could all, especially the men, emulate that, because he really stood up for a lot of good things. I just want to thank him publicly for that.”
—Gina Reyman, Managing Attorney, Durham office
“I am so thankful that I knew Jeff and knew him as a colleague. He was committed to all our clients, and to all the people in the world having better lives and having more opportunities. I remember often he would say to me ‘Willette, are you taking care of yourself?’ and he was always available to help. He was genuinely caring, the care that you can see in someone’s eyes, not just from their words, and I will miss his spirit dearly.”
—Willette Crews, Paralegal/Outreach Coordinator, Durham office
“When I started taking on additional responsibility and trying to figure out how to do that, Jeff was very generous and kind with his time. He met with me several times to teach me, mentor me and help me figure out how to be a better supervisor. I’m just devastated. He is irreplaceable.”
—Peter Gilbert, Director, Statewide Eviction Diversion Program
“Jeff was always precise, always so meticulous, always kind in all his comments. His passing has been very hard for us. We all have to pull together to help each other and check on each other. That’s very important, and it’s what Jeff would want us to do.”
—Yvette Stackhouse, Deputy Director of Administration
“Jeff was not only a wonderful attorney, but Jeff was also a good accountant. Jeff could have been an accountant any day of his life. He basically put the HUD budgets together himself. If I made a mistake, he would catch it, which was great. He made our lives so much easier. It was a privilege to work with him.”
—Bernetta Reynolds, Chief Financial Officer
“Jeff pursued publicity for the Fair Housing Project with complete selflessness. He never, ever sought recognition for himself. His motivation was always solely to effect positive outcomes for the project’s clients and for victims of discrimination in general. He recognized that public relations was simply another tool in his advocacy toolbox, and he used it skillfully and effectively. His example has always inspired me and will continue to do so. I will miss him.”
—Sean Driscoll, Director of Public Relations
To learn more about Jeff, click here to read his obituary. His memorial service was held on March 20, 2022, at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.