Family, friends remember former Atlanta mayor Sam Massell

ATLANTA — Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell died Sunday morning of natural causes, according to his family. He was 94.

Family and friends of the former mayor are now speaking out about the impact he had on their lives. His son spoke to Channel 2′s Larry Spruill about his legacy and impact on the city.

“He was very genuine. He was very loving. He was compassionate and forgiving,” said Steve Massell.

That’s how Steve Massell, the son of former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, is remembering his father, “I was never amazed at someone, who was constantly approached, by all sorts of people, for his wisdom, for his council, whether it was politics or real estate, or family life, or personal issues,” said Massell.

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Massell said he will remember his father as a true champion, “I think deep down, Dad had a true sense of integrity, in everything that he did in life.”

Massell said that will be a part of his father’s legacy, “He was a champion of civil rights in the city, in the South. A lot of times, while, he marched in civil rights demonstrations, arm in arm with some of our illustrious leaders, Andrew Young and Dr. Martin Luther King, he was never afraid to speak his mind.”


Atlanta City Councilmember Howard Shook said his friend Massell also had a vision for transportation and large real estate plans.

He said that will also be a part of Massell’s legacy, “His work with MARTA and mass transit. For decades after that he dedicated himself to the local community, here in Buckhead and had a lot to do with turning Buckhead, from a significant retail, commercial and social note, to the powerhouse that it is today.”

Several Atlanta political figures also showed their respect for the former mayor.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens released a statement that reads

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Mayor and my friend Sam Massell. Sam’s impact on our city was immeasurable. His time as Mayor made history in so many ways. He was Atlanta’s first and only Jewish Mayor, he laid the groundwork for MARTA—which connected neighborhoods and residents across our city—and he paved the way for better representation of women and minority participation in City government. Sam was one of the wittiest people I knew. He understood the importance of collaboration and inclusion. I call it drawing circles, but Sam always said that we can get more done through a conference call than through confrontation. That is why I asked him to join our transition team. Rest well, my friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who loved him.”

—  Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens

MARTA also released a statement that read:

MARTA mourns the loss of Atlanta political and civic giant and former board member Sam Massell. MARTA would not exist but for the dedication and persistence of Massell, who convinced the Georgia Legislature, and later voters, to approve the local option sales tax that continues to fund MARTA to this day. His political antics in the early days of the MARTA referendum are legendary, as are his grassroots efforts riding the bus to communities and explaining the sales tax on a chalkboard. MARTA was fortunate to have such an ardent support and we remain forever in his debt. Our deepest sympathies go to his wife Sandra, his children, extended family and his countless friends.


Fulton County Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman remarked on all the advancements Sam Massell brought not only for Buckhead, but for the whole city.

“Today, Atlanta lost another giant of the political world. Sam Massell may have been known to many in the present day as the “mayor of Buckhead,” but he was a champion for all of Atlanta.

I well remember his days as mayor and his work to help establish MARTA.

What I will say about Sam Massell is this: often what is most important in political life is what you do AFTER you leave office. Mayor Massell, who lost his bid for reelection to the city’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, did not diminish or go away. Sam flourished and pushed for improvements in our city and our region. Yes, the Buckhead Coalition was his ‘baby,’ but Sam was always an advocate for other areas too and for this, the City can be grateful for his long years of service before and after he held court as the city’s top leader.

On behalf of the people of Fulton County and particularly those in the Mighty 6 District, I offer our condolence to Sam’s family and friends. I remind them, that love never fails even after those we love so dearly leave us for their greater reward.

—  Khadijah Abdur-Rahman

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond also expressed his gratitude for Massell’s service.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former Mayor Sam Massell. Well known as an outstanding civic leader, businessman, trailblazer, and visionary, he was a close mentor and dear friend. The former mayor was the compass and conscious of those both aspiring to and practicing public service. He was the wise sage who mentored and taught so many who sought to seek good in the way that he had done. I consider myself very fortunate to have been one of those who benefited from his love, time, and concern.

We exist today in an Atlanta partially inspired by his great vision of what a ‘city on a hill’ should be. He never stopped caring. He never stopped building, never stopped serving the people and the city that he loved so much. Whether it is the appointments of minorities and women in city government or the creation of great arenas for people to gather for entertainment and sports, or the minting of great communities and neighborhoods, we need only to look around to see his intelligible impression upon the edifice known as Atlanta. My deepest condolences are extended to his wife, Sandra, and his family, friends, and supporters. Atlanta should be grateful for the life, the times, work, and the man — Sam Massell.

For those of us who will surely miss him, we need only to look to his accomplishments that remain. When looking for his soul, they will find it with the heroes of old, cast amongst the stars.”

“He became the Mayor of Atlanta, than was affectionately referred to as the Mayor of Buckhead and I’m sure today he’s the mayor in Heaven,” said Steve Massell.

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