This is the week of Thanksgiving, and, as such, I’d like to reflect on that for which I am thankful.

Yes, I realize as you are reading this, the day of feasting, family and football is in the rearview mirror. I, however, write these columns a week in advance. So please forgive the time-lapse.

Given the importance and history of the Buckhead boys and their holiday fundraiser held Dec. 2, I wanted to get that one out first, thus delaying my Thanksgiving column a week.

So here goes — I am thankful this season for Mary Norwood.

Lest you interpret this as a political advertisement, let me explain.

Dr. Felton Norwood was our pediatrician growing up. Mary is married to Felton. But that’s not the story, just some transparency, a way of saying I knew Mary way before I got into journalism.

This story begins with a sewer.

For decades, the city of Atlanta suffered from combined sewer overflows. When it rained heavily, the stormwater runoff overwhelmed the raw sewage lines. The combination often spilled out into our creeks and rivers.

Needless to say, that putrid, sweet smell wafting through the air after a downpour wasn’t a good thing.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper successfully sued the city in 1998, thus setting in motion some of the long-neglected fixes. One of those was an above-ground sewage facility in Buckhead.

Mary, at that time, was no politician or city bureaucrat. She was a successful business owner and Buckhead resident who determined there was a better solution. Mary attended the meetings, she listened, she recruited and she pushed.

It was a team of people to be sure, but Mary became the public voice of opposition to the city’s plan. Not only that, but she got behind an alternative solution — a deep-ground tunnel.

Fast forward a few years, and because of her community activism, residents elected Mary to the city council.

When she first joined the council, we ran into her by the swimming pool, one sweltering summer day. In her lap was a document the size of a dictionary. It was the city’s budget. She was going through it line by line.

Eventually, Mary ran for mayor twice, coming frustratingly close to winning both times.

Now she has settled back into a middle ground. She is the chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, leveraging her database of emails to keep residents informed about everything from public safety to the tree ordinance to zoning disputes.

Today, as a resident, I am obligated to attend public meetings. We have citizen advisory councils called Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs) that are the front lines of zoning, land-use and planning-related issues. They meet every month after work nearby.

We have a neighborhood association that meets regularly, with fire and police commanders giving states of the neighborhood. Elected officials come as well. There is always an opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns.

That is to say nothing of city council meetings, school board meetings or county commission meetings.

I rarely, if ever, attend these meetings. There’s no excuse. I have most of them on my calendar. I want to be an engaged and informed person. I really do.

I get to the end of the day and I am done, unmotivated to get out the door for something critically important, much more important than anything going on in Washington. Those events seem to consume me hourly.

I get to make the choice to stay home. The volunteer boards do not. The men and women who serve on our civic associations, NPUs, our school boards or our city council are our neighbors. They are volunteers who have to be there, representing our interests.

They are unsung heroes.

Mary represents that civic spirit.

On behalf of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, she sends a constant stream of helpful emails and messages about issues that are relevant to our everyday lives. She attends many of these meetings, so I don’t have to.

The Buckhead Council hosts regular public information meetings, as well. Its website,, has a calendar of all of these public meetings.

I spend much of my time complaining about city services, public safety and the incompetence of the Atlanta school board. Yet I spend almost no time going to these open meetings and learning first-hand what can be done about them.

It falls to the Mary Norwoods of the world.

And for them — and for her — I am grateful.

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


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