Sheffield Hale taking the reigns of our beloved Atlanta History Center in Buckhead is a welcome return to form.
I do not mean this as a criticism of any of the leaders of our cultural establishments who were not born and bred here. When an organization grows to a certain point, it is important to engage the best possible people to continue that growth. Having a leader, however, who is there because they are passionate about an organization, and because their families instilled in them a commitment to give back to the community, is healthy and unique.
From 1993 to 2004, Alston Glenn headed the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Midtown. Under his leadership, the garden grew to a world-class attraction, opening both the children’s garden and the Fuqua Conservatory. Alston was a former banker whose family had been instrumental in the garden’s development. His aunt and uncle, Elkin and Philip Alston, were among the founders and long served as leaders on its board. Few knew the garden as well as the Alston family.
My father, Alfred Kennedy Jr., served for 20 years as the director of Atlanta Opera. He was the chairman of the board of the Atlanta Civic Opera. His father, Alfred Kennedy Sr., served as the longtime chairman of the Atlanta Music Festival Committee, which brought New York’s Metropolitan Opera to Atlanta once a year.
A businessman in his own right who had worked in real estate and marketing, my father leveraged the connections he had made growing up in Atlanta to raise needed funds for the Atlanta Opera, which was named the fastest growing regional opera company during his tenure and enjoyed a resurgence when it moved from Symphony Hall to the Fox Theatre, both in Midtown.
One of the all-time great arts leaders in our city and our de facto arts historian is Beauchamp Carr, who has served as the executive vice president of the Woodruff Arts Center since 1977. Under Carr’s leadership, the center has raised hundreds of millions of dollars and has grown into the preeminent arts umbrella organization in the region. He, too, was a banker before he joined the arts association. Carr has announced he will retire next month. His mother, the late Anne Carr, was a founding member of the Forward Arts Foundation and invested a tremendous amount of her talents for the betterment of Atlanta culturally.
These arts leaders were endowed by the generations that preceded them with the understanding that they needed to put more back into the community than they took out. I doubt any of them received a doctorate degree in the fields in which they worked. Rather they were successful in business and were driven to make a difference.
Hale replaced retiring Sal Cilella as the center’s president and CEO. Now Hale, the son of the late Ann and Bradley Hale, two civic leaders who left an indelible imprint on our city and state, especially with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, is leveraging that legacy, his passion for our history and his love of the Atlanta History Center to help it reach new heights.
I for one welcome this throwback approach.
Thornton Kennedy is a fifth-generation Buckhead resident and a former news editor of the Northside/Sandy Springs/Vinings Neighbor newspapers. He can be reached at