Sam Massell, former Atlanta mayor, dies at 94
Former Atlanta Mayor and Buckhead Coalition leader, Sam Massell, died today at the age of 94.
Born on Aug. 26, 1927, Samuel Alan Massell Jr. spent the first month of his life at his family’s Ponce de Leon apartment building in midtown before moving to a house in Druid Hills, where he was reared and went to school. Massell earned a business degree from Georgia State and a law degree from Atlanta Law School.
In 1951, Massell went into the real estate business. During his 20 years as a Realtor, Massell was honored three times by the Georgia Association of Real Estate Boards with its “Transaction of the Year” award. He also made his first venture into local government in 1951, qualifying under the law at the time to become a councilman in the north Fulton County community. A decade later, Massell was elected president of the board of Atlanta’s aldermen, now known as the City Council. As head alderman, he also served as vice mayor, “which meant I became acting mayor when the mayor at the time, Ivan Allen, was out of town.”
When Allen chose not to run again in 1969, Massell offered himself as a candidate, surviving a Democratic primary, then a runoff against a candidate favored by the business community. “I won my first mayoral election with 90 percent of the Black vote and 10 percent of the white vote,” Massell said in a 2005 interview. “Four years later after Blacks had become a majority in the city, my numbers were just the opposite, and I lost to Maynard Jackson.”
As Mayor, Massell is credited with laying the foundation for MARTA. Said Sam Williams, former president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, in an Atlanta Business Chronicle article: “Without Sam Massell, we might not ever have had MARTA.”
Other notable assets to the city were built during Massell’s tenure including Woodruff Park, the Omni complex, and Colony Square. Massell, the city’s first Jewish mayor, also set precedents by appointing the city’s first African American department heads and the first woman to the City Council.
After leaving the Mayor’s Office, Massell began operating a travel service in 1973 called Aditus Inc. He visited an estimated 85 to 90 countries. In 1988 he was approached to become president of the Buckhead Coalition, an exclusive group of businessmen intent on encouraging quality growth and keeping the Northside neighborhood upscale and prosperous. Massell was later inducted into the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Hall of Fame in 2004.
Massell was deeply involved with Jewish institutions including the Temple, the Atlanta Jewish Federation, the Anti-Defamation League. Georgia Trend magazine recognized Massell’s lifelong civic involvement in 2004 by including him in the publication’s “Most Influential Hall of Fame.”
Andre Dickens, the current mayor of Atlanta, released a statement after news of Massell’s death, reading in part: “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Mayor and my friend Sam Massell. Sam’s impact on our city was immeasurable. His time as Mayor made history in so many ways.” Dickens added, “He understood the importance of collaboration and inclusion. I call it drawing circles, but Sam always said that we can get more done through a conference call than through confrontation. That is why I asked him to join our transition team.”
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said, “Sam Massell was a visionary leader — mayor, businessman, veteran, and realtor. He understood the value of working together to make the future brighter for the city and state he loved. He was a good and decent man whose legacy will live on for generations.”
Survivors include his wife Sandra, a son and daughter-in-law, Steve and Krista Massell; a daughter, Cindy Massell; a daughter and son-in-law, Melanie and Jack Jacobs; and three grandchildren, Dylan, Graham, and Isabel Massell.