BY AL SHAMS / AJT //

Twenty-five years ago, two good friends with a vision thought they could bring together a select group of private, concerned citizens whose hard work and personal financial commitment could benefit those living and working in the Buckhead area.

Sam Massell

Sam Massell

Those two friends were Sam Massell and Charles Loudermilk, and the Buckhead Coalition was their joint vision.

Loudermilk had the original idea for the Coalition and quickly enlisted 12 other civic-minded Buckhead residents to serve as founding members. To find a full-time president, the group conducted a search, the result of which was Massell being offered the position.

And in that role, Massell – Atlanta’s mayor from 1970 to 1974 and the city’s first and so far only Jewish mayor – has served ever since.

Early on, Sam’s friends had a dim view of the organization’s viability and advised him to secure a three-year contract. Loudermilk, the Coalition’s founder, also not sure of success, only wanted the responsibility of a one-year contract.

They settled on a two-year contract, which – to this day – has yet to be drafted.

The founding mission was to establish a collective of concerned citizens to supplement the actions of local government. The belief was that city governments were struggling to meet some of their citizen’s needs and that a group of high-profile residents could provide some assistance.

That vision has been validated many times during the past 25 years.

Making Buckhead Better

The bulk of the organization’s funding comes from member dues, which are $6,250 per year. Membership – which has diversified over the years to embrace women as well as people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds – includes business leaders, local professionals and other concerned citizens, and comprises a list of names most readers would recognize.

The total number of members is limited to 100, and the waiting list is long. Some might consider this an exclusive group – and it is. However, it is well to note that the coalition receives no public funding; all expenditures are made with the members’ personal monies.

All efforts are exclusively devoted to the common good and are not self-serving. Participants’ only reward is the satisfaction of having helped to make Buckhead an attractive place to live, work and visit.

Among some of the most notable initiatives undertaken by the Coalition in the past quarter-century are:

  • Raising $400,000 from membership to fund a renovation of the Atlanta International School.
  • Raising another $400,000 from membership to fund construction of the Carl E. Sanders Buckhead YMCA.
  • Working to persuade the State to use a portion of Georgia Interstate 400 tolls to fund construction of a Georgia 400/I-85 connector.
  • Placing 60 heart defibrillators in public areas, i.e., churches, hotels and office buildings.
  • During the recent recession, purchasing two full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal to alert readers to attractive lease rates in Buckhead.
  • Installing a network of free-standing 911 emergency telephones.
  • Putting forth $50,000 for information that lead to the arrest and conviction of an individual in the case of a local murder.
  • Working closely with city government to help educate residents on the wisdom of completing Georgia 400 through Buckhead.
  • Donating bike racks to assist area police.
  • Encouraging local government to repair broken street lights and traffic signs and to fill roadway potholes.
  • Successfully lobbying MARTA to operate a daily bus, The Peach, between Buckhead, Midtown and Downtown, making for the first      time in 33 years a patron could travel this route without making a transfer.
  • Publishing a major annual community directory, “The Buckhead Guidebook,” now in its 18th year, with eight awards      and ad revenue contributions going to local nonprofits totaling $110,500 to date
  • Creating the Buckhead Community Improvement District, which has raised more than $38 million from self-imposed member      properties, plus State and Federal grants for the Peachtree Boulevard project and other traffic-related improvements

Product of Good Leadership

Many believe that the Coalition’s great success is due to the quality of its membership, its executive staff and the cooperative, helpful and non-confrontational approach it has taken in dealing with local government and others.

In that respect, Massell has been the ideal person to serve and lead all these years. In meeting with Sam personally, one is quickly impressed by his warm, gracious, cordial and sincere manner. No wonder he was so successful in public, business and civic life.

A life-long resident of Atlanta, he attended public schools in DeKalb and later the University of Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Emory and Atlanta Law School. He holds many academic degrees and numerous honorary degrees.

His father – an active real estate developer in the 1920s and 1930s – switched paths to practice law at the onset of the Great Depression. The elder Massell always had a passion for state and local politics, and Sam would join his dad and attend local political rallies, thereby meeting some of the giants of the day (including Eugene Talmadge, Ellis Arnall, Ivan Allen, William Hartsfield and Richard Russell among many others).

At his father’s side, Massell gained an insight into politics, the art of effectively dealing with people and, most importantly, the concept of community service. He believes, as his dad did, in the old adage:

Those to whom much is given, much is expected. 

That philosophy has guided a long career. Massell spent 20 years as a highly regarded realtor – becoming a charter member of the Million Dollar Club – and on three separate occasions won the Cates Trophy for creating the “Outstanding Transaction of the Year.” Also while active in real estate, he became involved in civic work and eventually politics.

From there, he served 22 years in elected office, first on the Mountain Park City Council, then on the Atlanta Executive committee, then as president of the Board of Alderman and finally as mayor from 1970 to 1974. His administration was credited with establishing MARTA and developing the OMNI Coliseum and Woodruff Park, among other notable accomplishments.

Then, after his time in public service, Massell entered the tourism industry as owner and operator of a Buckhead-based travel agency. Thirteen successful years later, he accepted the position of President of the Buckhead Coalition in 1988.

Space does not allow us the freedom to list Massell’s many honors, accomplishments and awards during his lifetime; needless to say, they are considerable. Our readers, young and old alike, can learn much from his lifetime of public and civic service.

Al Shams is a Sandy Springs resident a former CPA and an investment professional with more than 35 years industry experience.