All of us in Atlanta mourn the passing of one of the kindest and gentlest philanthropists, J. Mack Robinson, who died of complications of Alzheimer’s on February 7. Known for his magnanimous generosity, he left a legacy of thoughtful and strategic philanthropy. I had the privilege of working with him at Georgia State. I was deeply impressed with his calm and caring demeanor. He truly enjoyed helping others and was delighted by the success of the students he sponsored.
Georgia State University (where he named the College of Business), the science building at The Westminster Schools which bears his name, the High Museum, The Jefferson Society at the University of Virginia, the United Way, Crawford Long Hospital (now part of Emory Healthcare), and hundreds of other causes have benefited quietly from his largesse. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (formerly the National Society of Fundraising Executives) named him and his wife, Nita, Georgia Philanthropists of the Year in 1994.
“He was the most modest man I’ve ever known,” said Edward Elson, former U.S. ambassador to Denmark. “He was brilliant without being condescending, and he was sophisticated yet down to earth in any activity he undertook.”
He attended one quarter at Georgia State University before Uncle Sam called him into action during World War Two. Mr. Robinson always intended to return and complete his degree; however, work got in the way. He had a great belief in the importance of education and proved his conviction by supporting educational causes in Atlanta and beyond.
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Friday at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church.
The life of Jesse Mack Robinson (from the Atlanta Journal Constitution)
• 1923: Born on May 7 in Atlanta. His father, James L. Robinson, came from Rockdale County and worked for a shoe manufacturing firm. His mother was raised near Lithonia.
• 1935: Worked as a copy carrier for the Atlanta Journal.
• 1941: Graduated from Boys High School. Enrolled at Georgia Evening College (now Georgia State University). Left college and joined the Army.
• 1946: Returned to in the newspaper’s circulation department. Opened two used-car lots in Atlanta, Baker Street Motors and Robinson Motors. Left his newspaper job.
• 1948: Added more lots and decided to form his own company — Dixie Finance Company—and later added Gulf Finance – to finance customers’ purchases and other automobile dealers.
• Early 1950s: Sold used car lots to concentrate on his financing companies, Delta Finance Co. and Gulf Finance Corp. Formed his own insurance company, Delta Life Insurance Company which led to Delta Fire & Casualty Insurance Company and Delta Printing Company.
• 1960: Married Nita Holloway of Newnan.
• 1961: Through a firm he created for investments in Europe, he backed up-and-coming designer Yves St. Laurent.
• 1963: Robinson’s identity as St. Laurent’s secret backer revealed.
• Mid-1960s: Bought local banks in small towns around Atlanta.
• 1971: Sold the 107 branches of Delta Finance and Gulf Finance to First National Bank of Atlanta, which later merged with First Wachovia Corp.
• 1974: Purchased the Atlantic American Corporation, an Atlanta-based insurance company.
• 1994: Named a Georgia Philanthropist of the Year with his wife.
• 1996: Became Gray Communications’ president and chief executive.
• 1998: Announced a $10 million donation to the GSU College of Business Administration, which would bear his name.
• 2002: Becomes Gray’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
• 2006: Ranked No. 698 on Forbes’ list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion.
• 2008: Steps down at Gray’s to become Chairman Emeritus of the company.
Former AJC news researcher Joni Zeccola contributed to this timeline
Sources: New Georgia Encyclopedia; Atlanta Journal-Constitution archives; Forbes.