By John Schaffner

A great visionary. Committed to his community. A true professional. An engaging, self-made man. A tremendous dreamer.

Those were terms used to describe fifth-generation Atlantan and Sandy Springs civic and business leader Joel Justin Griffin, 62, who died of a heart attack at home Feb. 27.

Griffin started Sandy Springs-based The Griffin Co. in 1975 to develop neighborhood shopping centers. In the early 1980s, the company pioneered office condominiums and developed six office condominium parks, totaling more than 850,000 square feet, and the landmark 20-story, 350,000-square-foot office condominium The Peachtree in Midtown.

During the 1980s, the company also developed nine single-family neighborhoods in the Sandy Springs and Buckhead areas and expanded into interior construction, property management and brokerage.

In recent years, the company developed several midrise office buildings and corporate headquarters, including the world headquarters for Internet Security Systems, a subsidiary of IBM, on Barfield Road in Sandy Springs.

Kirk Demetrops, who had worked with Griffin since 2001 and became president of the company in 2007, said the death “was a surprise because Joel took his health seriously.”

He added, “He was a very engaging, self-made man. He took chances and was a visionary. He engaged everything with enthusiasm and passion.”

Demetrops said he is not expecting any changes to the business.

Last year Griffin announced plans for a major mixed-use development in the 6000 block of Roswell Road, site of the Bank of America building, where Griffin met his wife of 38 years, Lynda Harris Griffin. Many in the city felt MainStreet Sandy Springs would set the tone for quality development along Roswell Road.

“We are all just terribly, terribly upset,” Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said. “It is a big loss to the community. He was a tremendous dreamer. … He will continue to have an imprint on Roswell Road.”

Demetrops said MainStreet “absolutely will happen” when the economy improves.

“I had a lunch meeting scheduled Friday (Feb. 27) with Joel and several other people at the Brickery,” Dist. 4 City Councilwoman Ashley Jenkins said. “When he didn’t show up, we all started checking our BlackBerries and tried to call him.”

She called Griffin a “visionary” and said, “It is a huge loss for the community.”

Nancy Leathers, who worked with Griffin in her current job as Sandy Springs’ director of community development and when she was with Fulton County and with Sandy Springs Revitalization, said: “He had great vision and a great commitment to his community. He gave back to the community, which was a big part of who he was. He was an exceptional professional and even better as a person.”

Griffin was proficient with a golf club, a cue stick, a fly rod, a shotgun and an artist’s brush. Demetrops said Griffin played online chess every night before going to bed.

Griffin was the son of Robert James Griffin and Virginia Holbrook Griffin. He grew up in North Atlanta, graduated from Sandy Springs High School and attended King College and Georgia State University. After college he enlisted in the Air Force.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughter Allison Griffin Bittel and her husband, Phil; daughter Lindsay Harris Griffin; grandsons Griffin Philip Bittel and Leighton Francis Bittel; brother R.J. Griffin Jr. and his wife, Delaine; sister-in-law Margo Griffin; and mother-in-law Mynelle Grove Harris.