A crowd of 100 or so local leaders and family members gathered Thursday in the V-shaped park at the intersection of Roswell and Anderson streets to dedicate Joe Mack Wilson Park, two focal points of which are a spacious gazebo and a historic marker bearing a grinning likeness of Wilson, who died in office in 1993.
The .15-acre park is part of the city’s $2.1 million Roswell Street streetscape project and also includes the “Forever Remember” statue erected two years ago by the Marietta Kiwanis Club.
Wilson, who made city beautification one of his keynote issues as mayor, was remembered as a political powerhouse, mentor and colorful character.
Former Gov. Roy Barnes told the crowd that Wilson, while serving as a state representative prior to becoming mayor, was “the driving force behind the renaissance of downtown Marietta. Everywhere you look you see his handiwork. His impact will be with us forever.”
Added Mayor Steve Tumlin, “You see his footprints all over town. He was one of the most powerful people I’ve ever met, and he used his power purely for the people of this city and state.”
TUMLIN kicked off his remarks by vigorously waving his forefinger at the crowd and cracking that, “We should all start out with the ‘Joe Mack Salute.’ You hadn’t lived if you hadn’t had Joe Mack wag that finger in your face. But he was a delightful man.”
The attendees included a bumper crop of Marietta Kiwanis Club members. The late mayor was an avid member of the Club, usually sitting at its “House of Lords” table with (among others) late state Sen. Harold Willingham, Barnes, Realtor Cody Holman and retired insurance exec Jack Wilson (no relation). Holman and Wilson (and Barnes) were on hand Thursday, and Tumlin in his welcoming remarks recalled that the “Lords” “were rude and crude and Joe Mack would have loved it that you all were here today.”
BARNES RECALLED that Wilson as a legislator had fought successfully to have $100,000 included in the state budget to pay for a study of whether then-two year Kennesaw Junior College should become a four-year college.
“And he did so over the bitter opposition of the state Board of Regents. And now Kennesaw State University has 25,000 students and is bigger than the University of Georgia was when I went there,” he said.
Wilson also played a key role in the relocation of what’s now Southern Polytechnic State University to Marietta from its first home in DeKalb County, Barnes explained. Gov. Marvin Griffin was against the move, but didn’t have enough votes to pass the “Rural Roads” program he badly wanted. So Wilson quietly lined up the votes of his fellow Cobb legislators for the road program in exchange for Griffin’s support for the school move.
“He always knew how to use the levers of power not for himself, but for the people of this community,” Barnes said.
“IT’S HARD to describe Joe Mack,” Barnes recalled. “He was one of the most unique people I have ever known, and I knew him all my life ...”
Wilson was a product of the Great Depression, he said.
“He disliked Republicans and blamed them for (the Depression) till his dying breath,” Barnes said. “He was a champion of those who had no voice. He was a true populist.”
That opinion was seconded Thursday by another speaker, state Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta), who remembered how when budget bills were being debated in the House, Wilson would yell out in a voice that carried across the chamber, “What does it do for ‘the little man?’”
BARNES also shared a selection of what he called “Joe Mack-isms.”
• “There’s always going to be someone against you in politics. The important thing is to make sure the right folks are against you. If they’re hated more than you are, you’re gonna win.”
• “You don’t have to be the most popular, just the lesser of two evils. And that’s all I want to be.”
• “Watch them swells (that is, people of privilege). All them folks is against us.”
And Barnes recalled that:
• When the City of Marietta created what’s now Atherton Square next to the Welcome Center and named it after former Mayor Howard “Red” Atherton, Wilson quipped to friends, “Them Soviets got nothin’ on us. We got our own ‘Red Square.’”
• When a member of the House got elected to the state Senate, Wilson smirked that “By leaving the House and going over there, he raised the collective IQ of both bodies.”
• When rural legislators got up to speak in the House, Wilson would snicker that they were representatives of “the Pine Tree Mafia.”
Concluded Barnes: “He was a great example of how you can come up from very modest circumstances and have a life of friends and accomplishments that last forever. I miss him every day.”
THE LATE MAYOR’S LEGACY was perhaps best summed up by his granddaughter, former GPTV producer Ashlie Wilson Pendley of Marietta.
“I want to thank you for coming,” she told the crowd. “And I think it’s remarkable that 20 years after he passed on that this community is still recognizing his accomplishments.”
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HARRY NORMAN Realtor Carol Ann King’s grandson Lawson King shot a 2-under 70 in the Class AAAAA state championship to lead the Gainesville golf team to a state championship. He and his parents David and Stacy King, are former Marietta residents. David had 6 birdies and1 eagle and his team finished the season undefeated.