ANGELINA COUNTY, TX (KTRE) – He was born Nov. 13, 1939 in Nacogdoches, but he's famous in Angelina County for his good cooking. Funeral services were held Tuesday for Gerald "Pete" Lilly.
The 70-year-old's heart had grown weak after a massive heart attack a decade ago.
Pete's legacy lives on in a small diner off Hwy. 69 South known as Pete's Place.
Scuff marks from his chair are still on the wall. The kitchen is quiet and no orders are up. The diner is normally closed Monday through Wednesday, but come Thursday, the owner won't be back.
"I think most people will remember him sitting in this chair with a cigarette in his hand and that was just Pete," said his granddaughter Tonja Childers.
The Vietnam veteran opened Pete's Place nearly 14 years ago.
"When we first opened it was just strictly family," explained Childers. "My mom and grandma waited tables, my grandpa and my aunt cooked and my best friend and I washed dishes in a three-tub sink."
Pete retired from the Navy as a PR1 Parachute Rigger and started up several businesses in the Lufkin area. He owned Pete and Jerry's Upholstery, Longhorn Leathers, where he made BMX Bicycle Racing uniforms, and Lufkin Screen Graphics. Pete's Place opened in 1997.
Pete was a favorite for several years at "The Taste of Lufkin." He was all about the people he served.
"We had no idea he was loved by so many people," said Childers.
"Apparently from the number of people that were at visitation last night, I'd say he knew everyone in town," said Rachel Spruell, Pete's friend.
Spruell has been coming to Pete's Place since it opened, but Tuesday she was the one bringing the food.
"It's a legacy, so yes, we'll be coming back and we will miss him," said Spruell.
The 70-year-old Lufkin graduate suffered a massive heart attack ten years ago and was diagnosed with lung cancer just a couple weeks ago.
Cooking was his passion.
"A lot of people say, you know if you ask them, well what did you know of Pete, and they say he has the best catfish and chocolate pie," Childers smiled.
The restaurant will continue to stay open Thursday through Sunday in memory of the man who loved to cook and make his customers happy.
"I know it's going to be hard, but this is his dream and as long as we can carry out his legacy and his dream, then that's what we will do," Childers said.
Pete leaves behind his wife of 52 years and several children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.