Bill Nordmark, co-founder of Atlanta Friendship Initiative, passes away suddenlyJohn Grant and Bill Nordmark talk during a 2016 interview about how their new-found friendship can be a model for others (Photo by Byron Small, Atlanta Business Chronicle)
By Maria Saporta
Atlanta business leader William G. Nordmark III, co-founder of the Atlanta Friendship Initiatve, died suddenly Monday evening of a brain aneurysm.
Nordmark, 69, was the kind of business leader who was all in. When co-founded the Atlanta Friendship Initiative two years ago, it became his life’s calling. Nordmark also was a leader of the Rotary Club of Atlanta – recently agreeing to chair the organization’s annual Interfaith Business Prayer Breakfast for the next three years.
“Two years ago, I didn’t really know Bill at all,” said John Grant, executive director of the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl and co-founder of the Atlanta Friendship Initiative. “Two years later, through our journey, we both said that we made each other better. We spoke almost every day.”
Nordmark most recently served as president and CEO of the Nordmark Consulting Group, which works with health care organizations.
Prior to starting his consulting business, Nordmark spent 18 years with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, including the last three years serving as executive vice president of External Affairs. Nordmark has served on the Governor’s Access to Health Care Commission.
He also was a past president of the Rotary Club of Atlanta, past chairman for the Rotary District 6900 Polio Plus Campaign, and chairman of the board of Clearwave, Inc. Nordmark also served on the board of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
Nordmark also was a proud alumnus of Georgia State University, and he was a four-year letterman on the GSU Panther basketball team from 1968 to 1971.
But Nordmark’s proudest achievement probably was co-founding the Atlanta Friendship Initiative with Grant and Ed Baker, former publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle who is now working with Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business.
Nordmark had the idea of launching the Atlanta Friendship Initiative as a way to get people of different races or ethnic backgrounds to become friends.
He reached out to Grant, former CEO of 100 Black Men of Atlanta and someone he barely knew, to ask him if he would become his friend. Grant readily agreed. Then Nordmark convinced Grant to co-launch the Initiative. The concept was simple. A pair of friends would agree to meet once a quarter for coffee or a meal and bring their families together once a year.
Two years later, AFI has brought together hundreds of friends – 179 pairs in all.
At the Rotary lunch meeting on Monday, President John O’Neill shared the news that Nordmark had had an aneurism and that his condition did not look promising.
Coincidentally, Rotarians Michael Keough and Beverly Tatum were sitting next to each other.
“We were Friendship No. 50,” said Tatum, former president of Spelman College. “Bill called me up and told me about the Initiative. He asked if I knew Michael. He said: ‘I think you’ll like him.’”
Nordmark reached out to Keough and told him the same thing – and the match was made.
“Michael and I are about as different as you can be,” Tatum said. “I grew up in Massachusetts and Michael grew up in Texas. I was struck by the fact we are about the same age. We both recently had lost our parents. We spent the first meeting talking about family.”
Keough remembered Nordmark as being “the sweetest, nicest person.”
“He was a force of nature – a visionary,” Tatum chimed in.
Grant said that from the beginning, Nordmark had big goals for the Atlanta Friendship Initiative.
“From the beginning of our conversations, it was always bigger than he or I,” Grant said of plans to take the initiative nationally and internationally.
Now Grant said he has lost one of his closest friends. He took comfort that Nordmark had spent a lovely Sunday with his wife, Vicki, and his grandchildren – even taking a ride in his convertible. He was in great spirits until Sunday evening, when he began complaining of a headache.
“Bill lived his creed,” Grant said. “He was always open and honest. And he had a lot of humility. I went to the hospital on Monday, and a lot of people came by. He was so special. And he shared that with his network of friends.”
Details of Nordmark’s funeral arrangements:
Wednesday, August 15th
Viewing: 4-7 p.m.
Northside Chapel Funeral Directors
12050 Crabapple Road, Roswell, Georgia
Thursday, August 16th
Viewing: 5-9 p.m.
Bernhardt Funeral Home
163 River Street, Ellijay, Georgia
Friday, August 17th
Funeral: 2 p.m.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
10358 GA-52, Ellijay, Georgia