Nashville, TN (TN Tribune)–Fred Dettwiller passed away the morning, Oct. 22, 2021. A leader in Tennessee’s business and religious communities, and a friend to many, 89-year-old Fred Dettwiller was one of the most remarkable, many-faceted Tennesseans of his generation. A man who excelled at everything he put his hand to – and who always had his hand in several large jobs at once – Dettwiller was a thoughtful, comfortably introverted yet strong and active leader who accomplished much and touched many lives by not letting his ego get in the way of making a difference. A man who lived his life on purpose, not by accident, Dettwiller once shared some of the guideposts of his life.
“Do more with your life than work on your business. Use every opportunity to learn. Energy and enthusiasm usually win the day. Don’t let ego get in the way. And it is possible, and necessary, to be both ethical and shrewd – as Jesus said, when commissioning the Apostles: ‘Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’”
Owner of one of Tennessee’s largest beer distributors, DET Distributing, Dettwiller was also an ordained priest who served as a canon in the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee and established the chaplaincy program at Metropolitan Nashville Airport’s public safety department, as well as at several other local, state and national public safety agencies, including the Secret Service. Dettwiller played an important role in opening Nashville to the world, chairing the Nashville Convention Center Commission and the committee that recommended Nashville build Bridgestone Arena. A commercially-rated pilot, he also chaired the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority and the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission. And he championed civil rights and education, chairing the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, the Tennessee State University Foundation Board and Tennesseans for Better Schools. He and his company were involved with and supported a wide array of charitable organization benefiting Nashville, Tennessee and the nation, and all are a better place today because of Dettwiller’s lifelong commitment to helping people build a better life.
A Memphis native, Dettwiller moved to Nashville in 1951 when his father started DET Distributing. After graduating from Vanderbilt University as one of the school’s first philosophy majors (the university will honor him at their homecoming football game Saturday against Mississippi State), he founded his first beer distributorship, CarDett, with his cousin in Clarksville, at age 23.
In 1973, he purchased DET Distributing, then a 23-employee company serving seven Tennessee counties, and ran both companies until selling CarDett in 1979. Today, DET Distributing employs over 300 people and serves 24 counties from offices in Nashville and Jackson. DET nine times won the Miller Masters, the highest award given a distributor by the brewer, and Dettwiller was named a Miller Legend in 2008 for lifetime achievement.
Dettwiller entered the priesthood in 2004 after a lifetime of involvement in the Episcopal Church as a lay leader. He began his church service as a deacon of St. Phillips Church in Nashville, then pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in Gallatin, Tenn., then as Canon for Special Projects for the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee. Long used to doing more than one job at a time, Dettwiller remained chairman of DET Distributing while he carried out his priestly duties, relying on trusted senior managers to handle day-to-day management duties. Fred Dettwiller is survived by his wife, Kathryn, and a large family, including many grandchildren. A small, family-only service will be held soon, but a celebration of life service is also planned for the coming months.
Comments by those who knew him well:
Tom Sherrard, founding member, Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison: “Fred embodied qualities that I regard as essential to living a successful life. Fred was modest. He valued loyalty. He was someone you could count on. Fred was generous and open to forgiveness. He will be sorely missed.”
Lew Conner, of counsel, Waller Law: “The lord has not put on the earth a better man than George Frederick Dettwiller. He was always a champion of ethics in a tough business, a commitment he demonstrated not only by his actions in the business world, but by becoming a priest and caring for others in body and soul. I have known him well and favorably for over 40 years, and he has been always the same – a thoroughly good and kind man. Fred was truly a man for all seasons.”
Bob Vero, former CEO, Centerstone: “Fred was not just a loving and generous man, but also a true Renaissance Man for the ages. I was witness to his generosity and saw in action his deep passion for helping people and families during times of crisis. And, of course, through the many chaplaincy programs he established at public safety organizations, he was especially devoted to serving those whose mission was to serve others in need.”
John Curley, Chief Operating Officer, DET Distributing: “You can’t talk about Fred Dettwiller without talking about his incredible business acumen, but that is only part of the story. He was a true Southern gentleman who was deeply involved in important work outside of this business, including with the church and community. He led this company with compassion and wisdom, and with those two traits you can create a very strong company, which he did. He was master at all he did.”