A gentle man – Britt Pendergrast – passes away at 99

By Maria Saporta

Updated: The memorial service for Britt Pendergrast will be at 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 30, at Trinity Presbyterian at 3003 Howell Mill Rd. with a reception also at the church immediately following the service.

A loving light flickered Thursday morning when Britt Pendergrast, 99, passed away.

Pendergrast, a progressive pacifist, environmentalist and civil rights advocate, was part of the dynamic duo – Nan and Britt – a couple that had been married for more than 76 years.

“I met him when I was 14 years old, and I never saw another man after that,” Nan said Thursday afternoon. “We were inseparable. I probably would have been much rottener without him.”

Nan and Britt Pendergrast

Nan and Britt Pendergrast

Just a few of days ago, Britt was cutting his wife’s hair. He recently recited the poem “Invictus” without missing a word, she said. “He was a beautiful man,” Nan added.

The Pendergrasts had seven children – who had a total of nine graduate degrees – a source of great pride for their parents

“Kids like to rebel against their parents,” explained Scott Pendergrast, one of the sons. “Our parents were tough to rebel against because they were so rebellious and progressive. They are a hard act to follow.”

Scott’s son, Britt, who was named after his grandfather, said he knew he had a special name.

“It’s certainly an honor to uphold,” said the younger Britt, who added he would always remember his grandfather’s kindness. “When you’d walk in the door, there was a twinkle in his eye. I was expecting him to make it to 100. I think we all thought he was immortal.”

Another son – Mark Pendergrast – was with his father when he died at 7:15 a.m. on Sept. 22 after a restless night.

“It was a very quick decline,” Mark said. “He was 99½ years old so he had a long, wonderful and incredible life. He did the jumble in the newspaper just yesterday.”

The elder Britt never missed a step – staying abreast of what was happening in the country and the world.

“He thought that if we elected (Donald) Trump, this country would go directly to hell,” Mark said. “He was very engaged in world events and politics up until the end. He was truly a Southern gentleman. He was a gentle man.”

Nan and Britt Pendergrast

Britt and Nan Pendergrast in their home (Photos by Maria Saporta)

The Pendergrast family threw a big party for Nan and Britt for their 75th wedding anniversary in April 2015. Before the party, they shared secrets of their steadfast relationship in a column that I shared on SaportaReport.

They realized early in life that they had common values – as pacifists who believed in Civil Rights while growing up in the South.

The Pendergrasts both shared a love for the environment and nature, and they will be honored by GreenLaw with the Environmental Hero Award at an event on Oct. 6 at the Nelson Mullins law firm in Atlantic Station for their contributions to the natural world.

They also shared a common love of music and songs – a love they passed on to their children.

After a career in the private sector, Britt went to work for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources where he was program manager of the Georgia Heritage Trust Program under then-Gov. Jimmy Carter. He helped the state acquire the Palisades area of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, the Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Northwest Georgia and the Ossabaw Island Heritage Preserve on the coast.

Nan and Britt Pendergrast

Nan and Britt Pendergrast before singing their song – “Our Love is Here to Stay”

About a month ago at a family reunion, Mark interviewed his parents, and then he sent the tapes to the American Friends Services Committee, which published two different stories about Britt Pendergrast. (Article one and article two).

Also the Pendergrasts established a “modest” fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta – wanting their children to carry on their philanthropic tradition.

“They taught us that no matter what you made, you always gave to the charities of your choosing,” Scott said. “They passed along to us the responsibility to try to make the world a better place in any way we could.”

What greater legacy is there?

Here is the obituary that the family prepared:

JOHN BRITTAIN PENDERGRAST, JR.

John Brittain Pendergrast, Jr., passed away peacefully at the age of 99 on September 22, 2016, at his beloved home in Atlanta.  Known as Britt, he was born in Atlanta on Feb. 3, 1917, the second of four sons. He was a gentle, kind, wise, principled man with boundless love, compassion, and generosity for his family and others, especially those less fortunate than he.

Britt attended Druid Hills High School, earned a B.S. degree with highest honors in textile engineering in 1938 from Georgia Tech, where he was president of the Chi Phi fraternity and became a devoted life-long Yellow Jackets fan.  He earned an M.S. in organic chemistry from Emory University.

After graduating he worked briefly at DuPont Company in Philadelphia before returning to Atlanta to work at the Southern Spring Bed Company, later renamed Southern Cross Industries.  After becoming president at Southern Cross, he pursued a second career with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as program manager of the Georgia Heritage Trust Program. Britt managed a team that acquired and preserved a large array of natural and historic properties across the state.

Britt worked in partnership with Nan Schwab Pendergrast, his wife of 76 years, to raise seven children and make the world a better place. He was particularly devoted to advancing the causes of civil rights, peace, justice, education, and the environment, serving on the board of the Nature Conservancy in Georgia and many other non-profit organizations.  A long-time member of the Atlanta Friends Meeting (Quakers), he helped found the Friends School of Atlanta.

He was a lover of poetry, singer of songs, photographer, prolific reader, charming wit, sailor, and dedicated do-it-yourselfer.  A founding member of the Atlanta Yacht Club on Lake Allatoona, he built a Y-Flyer sailboat and competed in races for many years, winning the Y-Flyer national championship regatta in 1956. His photographs graced two books written his wife Nan.

Britt was deeply loved and valued by all who knew him. He is survived by his wife Nan, his seven children Jill, John (Fiona), Nan (Gene), Mark (Betty), Blair, Scott (Bailey), and Craig (Terri), twenty grandchildren, twenty-nine (and counting) great-grandchildren, his brother Dr. William J. Pendergrast and sister-in-law Helen Pendergrast, many nieces and nephews, and his beloved dog Bonnie.  He was predeceased by his father John B. Pendergrast, Sr., his mother Ruth Hodnett Pendergrast, and his brothers Ambrose (“Brodie”) and Robert (“Bob”).

His memorial service will be held at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 3003 Howell Mill Rd, NW in Atlanta on September 30 at 1 pm with a reception to follow.  In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Doctors Without Borders or a charity of choice.

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 stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

2 replies
  1. Wormser Hats says:

    I first came to know Nan and Britt over 25 years ago and at a time in their lives when most people would be lazily basking in the golden years of retirement, but not the Pendergrasts! 
    Unlike so many other well-heeled trustees of The Nature Conservancy of Georgia, this pair was never above having picks, shovels, and rakes-in hand as they rolled-up their sleeves and pitched-in with other volunteers to build hiking trails, extricate natural areas from the grip of invasive species, and  – all the while – share their worldly experiences and home-spun words of encouragement for the emerging generation engaged in environmental stewardship.

    This team truly teems with infectious optimism, warm smiles, and enlightenment that twinkles in their eyes brighter than you’ll ever see in another human being.
    Although I am saddened by his passing and will miss seeing that indefatigable light in Britt, it not only endures in Nan, but in the lives of so many they touched and will forever be felt in the lands and places they helped conserve for the rest of us.Report

    Reply

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