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‘Mayor of Buckhead’ announces retirement from Buckhead Coalition

Maria Saporta

By Maria Saporta

Sam Massell – the “mayor” of Buckhead – made a surprise announcement at Wednesday’s annual Buckhead Coalition meeting at 103 West in Buckhead.

Massell, 92, announced he will be stepping down this year as president of the Buckhead Coalition, a role he has had since the founding of the organization in 1988.

Before becoming president of the Buckhead Coalition, Massell served as the first and only Jewish mayor of Atlanta from 1970 to 1974. He also bridged the transition at City Hall from white political power (Mayor Ivan Allen Jr.) to black political power (Mayor Maynard Jackson Jr.).

Sam Massell, president and CEO of the Buckhead Coalition, receives a kiss from his wife, Sandra, after announcing that he will retire later this year (Photo by Maria Saporta)

As mayor, Massell played a key role in the formation of MARTA, in changing the city elections to nonpartisan races, developing the city’s first enclosed arena (the Omni Coliseum), establishing Central City Park (now Woodruff Park), and making the bold decision to allow the then-controversial Muhammad Ali to fight in Atlanta when 50 other cities did not.

“I consider Sam Massell to be one of Atlanta’s giants of the highest order,” said Joe Evans, vice chairman of Cadence Bancorp, who is starting his second year of a two-year term as chairman of the Buckhead Coalition. “The Buckhead Coalition and all of Atlanta should feel deeply indebted to Sam for a lifetime of selfless leadership.”

Although Massell is best known for his tenure at the Buckhead Coalition and his 22 years in elected offices, he also had careers in real estate and the travel business.

Evans said praised Massell for helping bring about the emergence of Buckhead as one of Atlanta’s most thriving commercial districts.

“Atlanta and Buckhead have experienced incredible growth and development while at the same time evolving into a much more inclusive community that anyone could have imagined in the 1960s or 70s,” Evans said. “I think it is impossible to look back over the positive changes we have experienced over this time and not have a sense of awe from the impact of Sam Massell.”

Specifically, Evans mentioned Massell’s role in helping convince the Atlanta City Council to approve the construction of Georgia 400 and his support of numerous Buckhead organizations, such as Carl Sanders Buckhead YMCA, the Atlanta International School, and the Shepherd Center.

The Buckhead Coalition also spun off the Buckhead Community Improvement District, which has generated over $59 million for numerous mobility-related improvements for the area.

As a special touch, Sam Massell announced at the end of Wednesday’s meeting that everyone would receive a Mezuzah on their way out. The Mezuzah is part of a Jewish tradition. A Mezuzah, which literally means doorpost, is put on the side of home’s entry way. The parchment scroll reads “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

When Joe Evans followed Massell’s announcement, he said: “I have a sense of how the Israelis must have felt when Moses stepped down.”

Evans said the Buckhead Coalition will begin a search process to find Massell’s successor.

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Maria Saporta
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 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.

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