Honoring philanthropists
Ryan Wilson, founder of the Gathering Spot, received the Philanthropic Leader of Tomorrow Award at the 2023 National Philanthropy Day lunch (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Philanthropic giving is celebrated every year at the National Philanthropy Day luncheon.

The 2023 event, which took place Nov. 2 at the Georgia Aquarium, honored several philanthropic leaders for their contributions to the Atlanta community over the course of their lives.

The Philanthropist of the Year Award was given to Jerry Wilkinson, founder and chairman of the Wilkinson Companies, a privately held real estate investment and management firm.

NP panel discussion on the future of philanthropy featured (left to right) Elizabeth MCall, Tom Johnson, Frank Fernandez, Jerry Wilkinson and Ryan Wilson. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

The Atlanta Community Food Bank nominated Wilkison for his involvement in supporting its recent capital campaign.

Kyle Waide, president and CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, said Wilkinson had helped build “the biggest food bank in the country.”

Upon receiving the award, Wilkinson said the food bank distributed more than 100 million meals in its last fiscal year.

“Atlanta came together,” Wilkinson said about building the new ACFB facility and about the work of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. “We are about building community and tackling the hard problems of our time.”

Wilkinson also has been a major contributor to Duke University and LaGrange College, among other causes.

“I’m in the fourth quarter of my life,” said Wilkinson, who thanked his wife Bev for their 47 years together. “Give while you’re alive so you can see the results of your giving.”

Tom Johnson, former president of CNN, received the Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year Award for his work in mental health and opioid addiction. Emory University School of Medicine, Skyland Trail, the Atlanta Press Club, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston all have benefited from the generosity of Johnson and his wife, Edwina.

Giving is personal
Tom Johnson, honored as Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year, at the luncheon Nov. 2 at the Georgia Aquarium. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

The running joke during the luncheon was the open question of why anyone would be willing to take Johnson’s phone calls because he’s usually asking for money, time or both.

Johnson admitted that much of his philanthropic efforts have been personal. He has suffered from depression, so mental health is central to his life. Most recently, his 55-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with a rare kind of early-stage Alzheimer’s, giving him yet another cause.

During his comments, Johnson paraphrased a theme that has been important in his life.

“It is not how we die; it is how we live,” Johnson said. “It isn’t what we take from life. It is what we give. Let’s keep on giving.”

Ryan Wilson, founder of the Gathering Spot, was given the Philanthropic Leader of Tomorrow Award.

Early during his remarks, Wilson was overcome with emotion. 

“Wow, this is emotional,” Wilson said, adding he didn’t know what luncheon attendees would be thinking about him having to pause to fight back tears. “I believe in a diverse, equitable, just and successful Atlanta. This city is important to me.”

Later, during a panel discussion about the future of philanthropy moderated by Frank Fernandez, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Wilson elaborated on his remarks.

“This is about what sort of community we want to look forward to,” Wilson said while acknowledging his young son, who was cheering him on. “I’m excited. If any city is going to get it right, it’s this city… The future will be about us engaging with one another.”

Elizabeth McCall of Marist received the Teen Volunteer of the Year Award for her contributions to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Maria Saporta, executive editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state. From 2008 to 2020, she wrote weekly columns...

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  1. Maria – thank you for being there and sharing this wonderful recap! We are grateful for the ways Atlantans continue to build community through philanthropy!

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