Julian LeCraw Sr. had a wife he treasured, children he put great stock in and a real estate empire that made him an Atlanta heavy hitter.
He also had a passion he shared mostly just with family until retirement: astronomy.
In his 60s, LeCraw turned the company that bears his name over to his then-29-year-old son and signed up for astronomy classes at his alma mater, Georgia Tech. At age 75, he built a mountaintop home complete with a rooftop observatory.
“He loved his observatory,” said oldest daughter Suzanne Cox. “It was a telescope to the heavens.”
LeCraw regularly invited friends to join his family and star gaze from the home on Brushy Face Mountain in Highlands, N.C.
“He taught people who knew nothing about astronomy all about the stars and how the universe explained to him how there is a God,” Cox said. “The way he saw it there was no way the universe could be this expansive, planned and organized without God.”
Real estate developer, community leader and man of faith and family, Julian LeCraw Sr., 86, of Atlanta died Oct. 25 after a brief illness.
He was born May 21, 1930 to Col. Roy LeCraw and Julia Adams LeCraw. His father Roy fought in four wars and was Atlanta mayor in 1941 and 1942, resigning to re-enlist after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In 1955, Roy LeCraw helped him build a modest apartment building. Julian LeCraw and Company would go on to build thousands of apartments, as well as office buildings, retail centers, hotels and industrial facilities.
“Julian was a visionary and can be credited with fulfilling Buckhead’s early needs for rental apartment buildings,” said Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition and Atlanta mayor from 1970 to 1974.
Buddy Aldredge met LeCraw when they were at what’s now Grady High School near Piedmont Park and developed a friendship and sometime business partnership that lasted a lifetime.
The two built some apartments and hotels together in Georgia and Florida, sealing deals with just a handshake, Aldredge said.
“If he told me something, then that was it,” he said. “Julian was honest in every respect. They didn’t make them any nicer, any better.”
LeCraw and his wife, the former Joanne Delany, were married 64 years and had a ritual in recent years of going to sleep at night holding hands. They had three children, Elaine LeCraw Baker, Julian LeCraw Jr. and Suzanna Cox.
LeCraw had a can-do attitude – whether it was piloting his own airplane for 25 years, displaying his golfing skills out on the course with friends, or helping his beloved Georgia Tech expand across I-75 and develop Technology Square and other important additions. He instilled the same in his children, Baker said.
“My dad always encouraged us to dream big, and he wanted us to think we could do anything,” she said.
LeCraw made a list of 19 “dos and don’ts” based on his 35 years in business and passed it on to son Julian when he retired.
On the list: Family should be the top priority, Julian Jr. said. The note also made the point that success can’t be realized without “true inner peace,” which comes in part from helping to better the lives of people in need, he said.
“I still have his handwritten copy,” Julian Jr. said. “I’ve given copies of it to family and friends, and I’ve tried to live by it my whole life.”
Bernie Marcus, businessman, philanthropist and Home Depot co-founder, said LeCraw was a good man and true friend who was humble, sincere, smart, empathetic and concerned about future generations.
“He believed very strongly in God, and he had a great belief in the free enterprise system,” Marcus said. “He was a very good friend to a lot of people.”
LeCraw’s death is “just a terrific loss,” Marcus said.
“Everybody has detractors in life, but nobody has ever had anything bad to say about Julian LeCraw,” he said.
A memorial service for Julian LeCraw Sr. will be Saturday at 11 a.m. at North Avenue Presbyterian Church, where LeCraw was a longtime member. A reception follows at Peachtree Golf Club from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Matthew Olsen Scholarship Fund at The Westminster Schools, 1424 W. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA. 30327.