The history of Atlanta is punctuated by the names of individuals.

Martin Luther King Jr., Anne Cox Chambers, William B. Hartsfield, Maynard Jackson.

Today I wanted to focus on something a little different — couples.

Kennedy, Thornton rgb

Thornton Kennedy

Several dynamic duos elevated Atlanta to the civic and cultural capital of the South and a bourgeoning international city.

Ivan and Louise Allen would be at the top of any Atlanta list. Together, they altered the course of our city.

The president of his family’s office supply company, Ivan Allen Jr. first served as the president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and then was elected Atlanta mayor in 1961. He served two terms in the 1960s — a white mayor in the city at the center of the Civil Rights Movement.

He had the segregation signs removed in City Hall as one his first acts.

Louise Allen was not one to rest on her husband’s laurels. She was involved in too many things to list, but the one I want to focus on, and for which she is best known, is the Atlanta Historical Society.

She convinced the society to buy the home of her late uncle and aunt, Edward and Emily Inman, the Swan House. She later led the fundraising for the Atlanta History Center museum. She took particular pleasure in the campus, recruiting garden clubs to beautify the grounds.

Her love and work are visible there to this day.

Atlanta wouldn’t be Atlanta without its role in the Civil Rights Movement.

As mayor, Allen had a few difficulties navigating those waters. When King was assassinated, Louise Allen comforted Coretta Scott King. Her husband ensured Atlanta would pay proper respects to its fallen son.

Alana and Harold Shepherd turned a dark moment into a beacon on the hill for the city of Atlanta. Their son James suffered a spinal cord injury while body surfing in 1973.

They sought the best treatment for James and grew frustrated by the lack of facilities in the South, so they started one in 1975.

Harold Shepherd was a successful businessman, the co-founder of Shepherd Constriction Co. He turned to his friends and business partners to seed the Shepherd Center, which has changed the lives of so many people struggling with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries and other neuromuscular conditions.

Today, as a result of Alana and Harold, and their son James, individuals from around the globe, including American soldiers injured in combat, come to Atlanta to get the best care in the world.

Their partnership not only made Atlanta better, but it is still changing lives to this day. Harold Shepherd died in 2018, and James died the next year. Alana Shepherd remains a fixture at the center.

Last, but not least, are Philip and Elkin Alston. There are too many accomplishments to list, but the one I want to leave you with is the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Elkin Alston, who married Atlanta attorney Philip Alston, launched a plan to convert a hilltop in Piedmont Park into a public garden. She leaned on her husband. His law firm would become Alston & Bird.

They helped raise the funds for a trailer, a few community gardens and a lease from the city of Atlanta.

Today, the garden is a world-class botanical garden and education center that captures the imagination at every turn. The Alston Overlook, at the top of that hill, offers the best view of the city.

Philip Alston is best known for supporting a politician from Plains, Georgia, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1966. Jimmy Carter would eventually win the seat, and from there rise to the White House.

Elkin Alston was right there in stride with her husband. She was a founding member of the Forward Arts Foundation, one of the “dirty dozen” along with Louise Allen. She supported numerous causes, including Egleston Hospital for Children, today Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Her husband served as the ambassador to Australia and Nauru under Carter.

There are so many others, including my grandparents, Alfred and Gina Kennedy.

Please let me know who I missed. It is time we constructed a thorough accounting of the couples who made Atlanta and, in turn, the world, a better place.

Support Local Journalism

Now, more than ever, residents need trustworthy reporting—but good journalism isn’t free. Please support us by purchasing a digital subscription. Your subscription will allow you unlimited access to important local news stories. Our mission is to keep our community informed and we appreciate your support.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.