The former owner and operator of Roz-Lyn Restaurant and Hotel in Dublin died Sunday at his Pulaski home. He was 89.
Leon Hilton Gillis owned and operated Roz-Lyn, off Route 11 between Dublin and Interstate 81, from the mid-1970s to early 1980s. However, he was best known for building a covered wagon and taking his family on a 294-day cross-country trip that became known as “The Last Wagon West.”
The horse-drawn wagon was the first and last wagon to travel from coast to coast. A book entitled “The Last Wagon West,” commemorating the 50th anniversary of the trip, is expected to be released in 2011.
According to the Horne Funeral Home obituary for Gillis, he was born in poverty in Telfair County, Ga., Nov. 11, 1920. In his early years, he worked for the federal government at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. In addition to Roz-Lyn, he operated various other businesses over the years.
In 1962, he shipped the wagon he had built to Europe by freighter and boarded the Queen Mary with his family. They traveled through France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and on to Moscow, where their trip was highlighted in Life Magazine.
According to a Nov. 6, 1977 article in The Southwest Times, Gillis “operated restaurants throughout Virginia and
Maryland, moving here and there when it suited him, before he built his covered wagon.” But in 1975, he stopped traveling altogether and bought Roz-Lynn Restaurant.
Traces of his extraordinary history were scattered throughout the restaurant and the wagon, coverless and crippled, sat behind the restaurant. Today, the restaurant building houses Valley Harvest Ministries.
In 1977, Gillis explained his reasoning behind building the wagon and taking his family on a national and international trip: "I wanted the children to have a broad education beyond the formal education they got in school. I wanted them to see the world. It was a slow mode of transportation and a place to live."
The family will receive friends this evening from 6-8 p.m., at Horne Funeral Home in Christiansburg. A funeral service will be held Friday at 2 p.m. at the funeral home chapel.