By Maria Saporta
Just in case Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin has been feeling low as she winds down her two terms as mayor, Thursday night should have made her feel valued and appreciated.
First Beth Schapiro, founder of the Schapiro Group, honored Franklin for giving her the courage to go out on her own to start her public affairs consulting firm 25 years ago.
“We were trying to get more women elected to office, particularly higher office,” Schapiro said of meeting with Franklin in the 1970s. “We can see how that worked out.”
But it was Franklin’s encouragement and support “in that spunky, no nonsense way” who told Schapiro at a breakfast to just go ahead and do it.. “I left that breakfast with more confidence. Thank you for heading me down that path.”
Schapiro said her firm is making a contribution to the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta to establish the Shirley Franklin Legacy Fund in her honor.
But it was the second event of the evening when Franklin was put on a pedestal when she received the 2009 Four Pillar Award from the Council for Quality Growth.
Nearly 1,000 people attended an elegant dinner at the Georgia World Congress Center to recognize her contributions to the city and the region from when she moved to Atlanta in the 1970s through her two terms as mayor.
Georgia Power President Michael Garrett, who chaired the 2009 Four Pillars Tribute event, began by saying that Franklin had helped business flourish all over Atlanta.
“I’ve gotten to know the lady behind the flower quite well,” Garrett said, referring to her signature flower pins that she regularly wears. “She didn’t get to where she is by being shy or reserved.
“One morning the phone rang by my bed at 6 a.m.,” said Garrett, who then heard the mayor’s voice. “’I need $5 million, and I need it by 9 a.m.’ I told her, ‘I’m not accustomed to committing $5 million in my pajamas.’ I know many of you got the same call.”
That’s how Franklin was able to raise $32 million in pledges and financial guarantees to be able to buy the collection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s papers and bring them home to Atlanta.
“Don’t be fooled by that flower,” Garrett said. “There’s a dynamo behind that flower.”
Atlanta architect John Portman said Franklin had always been on the right side of issues.
“She’s given it her all,” Portman said remembering her slogan when she was running for her first term — make me mayor and I’ll make you proud. “She’s right. She has made us all proud.”
The four pillars of the award are: quality, responsibility, vision and integrity.
Claire ”Yum” Lewis Arnold, CEO of Leapfrog Services, spoke of quality — mentioning her leadership of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a blue-ribbon advisory group that has helped the mayor in most of her initiatives, from the BeltLine, the Peachtree Corridor, Brand Atlanta, Regional Commission (ACP) on Homelessness and a major overhaul of the city’s finances.
“Through her leadership, she will leave our city in a fundamentally better place than how she found it,” Arnold said.
Jim Wells, CEO of SunTrust Banks who chairs ACP, spoke about responsibility.
“The concept of responsibility is deeply rooted in our mayor,” Wells said of her various titles — the ethics mayor, the sewer mayor, the BeltLine mayor. “She overcame the city’s tarnished reputation — tarnished because of corruption and mismanagement.”
Next was former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who spoke of Franklin’s vision. Young said her most visionary contribution was meeting with every single public high school college senior to help them transition to college or a career.
Sylvia Russell, president of AT&T-Georgia, spoke integrity and of how Franklin had been a role model for her and for others.
“The mayor assumed office when this city was in crisis,” Russell said. “Integrity would guide he and restore confidence in City Hall.”
In accepting the award, Franklin remembered her late mother, a collector who had brought 75 boxes of stuff when she moved from Philadelphia to Atlanta.
“Going through one of the boxes, there was a plaque given to her by her mother,” Franklin said, adding that the words inscribed on the plaque have guided her through her life.
And she read those words:
“I shall pass this way but once. Therefore any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show, let me do it now, for I shall not pass this way again.”