DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond stands with Atlanta City Council. President Doug Shipman at the April. 26. State of. DeKalb County lunch at Pullman Yards. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

By Maria Saporta

The State of DeKalb County lunch on April 26 had a railroad theme – partly because it was held at Pullman Yards – which once built the luxury Pullman passenger train cars.

In his address, Thurmond said DeKalb is on a journey to greatness. But he then added that he would be getting off the train in 2024 and that a new CEO would continue DeKalb’s journey.

Thurmond, a natural politician who served as Georgia’s labor commissioner, worked the room – connecting with people from throughout the region. He was introduced by Beatrice Williams, co-chair of the DeKalb County Bicentennial Commission, who urged Thurmond to run for higher office rather than step away as a public servant and elected leader.

The sold-out lunch had several highlights.

The State of DeKalb County lunch played on a railroad theme partly because it was held at Pullman Yards. (Photo by Kelly Jordan.)

It was the first time DeKalb had held the State of the County lunch within the city limits of Atlanta. A portion of Atlanta is in DeKalb County.

Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman provided a welcome – celebrating the city’s hosting of the luncheon, sponsored by the Council for Quality Growth. Shipman also applauded the current collaboration between Atlanta and DeKalb – especially at a time when there is so much divisiveness in the country.

Another highlight revolved around the John Lewis Commemorative Task Force.

Hilton Howell, CEO of Gray Television, and Jay Gipson, developer of Assembly Atlanta, announced they were making a $50,000 contribution to help honor the late U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader.

DeKalb County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, who is chairing the task force, announced they had raised $700,000. Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett, a co-chair, recieved applause when she said the new public artwork would be installed on the site of a previous Confederate memorial in front of the historic DeKalb County Courthouse.

Thurmond also handed out three W.W. King Bridge Builder Awards to people who had made a big difference in DeKalb.

He gave the first award to Dr. Vasanne Tinsley, interim DeKalb County Schools superintendent, who was passed over for the permanent position – which has caused a flurry of controversy in the county.

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond came down off the stage to personally present architect Robert L. Brown with the Bridge Builder award as Barbara Brown, stands next to her husband. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

“The most difficult public job in DeKalb County is superintendent,” said Thurmond, who used to hold that position. “Dr. Tinsley saved the DeKalb County school district.”

The crowd of 500 attendees gave the interim superintendent a standing ovation.

“The education of our children is important,” she said. “It must not get caught up in political wrangling. At this moment, this recognition and this award is so important for me. I want the DeKalb School District to be successful.”

Retired banker Jim Miller received the second Bridge Builder award, but he didn’t attend the lunch because he was out of the country. “He’s a banker with a heart,” Thurmond said.

The last Bridge Builder award was given to architect Robert Brown, president of R.L. Brown & Associates, who Thurmond described as his “personal hero.”

Robert Brown was at the lunch, but his wife, Barbara, accepted the award on his behalf. Thurmond then stepped off the stage to personally give the award to Brown, who was the first African American to serve as chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He also served on the board of the Georgia Department of Transportation for more than a decade.

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Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news...

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