Brookhaven History
Tom Reilly

Every decade has its defining moments. Some sear us all; some touch us individually. The year 1980 pretty much came and went, its only real LCEs (life-changing events) being our children’s continued entry into the world of education. As our children’s world expanded, our adult world shrank to meet it.

Two words spoken by our daughter on her first day of “real” school would always have a bittersweet place in my memory. She was so small that her naturally curly hair missed even the lowest tree branches she passed on her way to the school bus. She turned for one last wave and two last words” “Goodbye, Daddy!”

Her face beamed as mine suddenly fell, my eyes moist and my heart filled with new understanding. “Goodbye,” after all, was part of growing up. For that brief moment she was the adult, and I was the child.

Work melded into Scouts, baseball, PTA. We seriously thought about just bringing a tent to Murphey Candler Park with our fast-food dinners. Our son became and remained a star athlete. I taught them both to drive in a large church parking lot. The goodbyes and the growth would continue.

Our children’s increasing independence gave Mom and Dad more of their old freedom. My wife used her newfound leisure to get a professional part-time job. I used mine to get into volunteer work. By turns I became an assistant Scout master and a builder for the Benton MacKaye Trail Association, lectured on the Shroud of Turin, worked with the homeless, and continued my Sunday school teaching.

The death of one of our BTMA people on a wilderness trail, the assault by a deranged man I had to subdue in our homeless shelter, and my military experience kept reminding me that although danger exists, fear is what predominates in too many lives. The sense of fulfillment that comes from service to others spread to all aspects of our existence.

The Brookhaven building boom settled down. Its Capital City Country Club community, begun in 1910, continued its grand tradition as the money kept moving north to the Dunwoody suburbs. Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza to the south reached their present dimensions. The middle part of the decade was spent on the mountain; the valleys came in 1981 and 1989, bracketing the decade with deep tragedy.

Hollywood had come to us in those years. Movies were made at Oglethorpe University using such stars as Richard Dreyfuss, Stephanie Zimbalist and Patricia Neal. A longtime character actor and former stuntman, Joe Dorsey, moved to our street in the late 1970s and became an instant friend. He autographed my copy of “Roots” — he was in the miniseries, which opened all our eyes to the horrors of racial injustice. We worked out together in the European Health Spa down the street, built a fish pond, and heard about his films with the rich and famous. He starred in the movie “Brainstorm” with Natalie Wood, and we both mourned her death in 1981, leaving her small children and husband behind — just as my mother, sister and I had been left behind all those years ago.

The company where I had worked for so many years was forgetting its priorities and declining accordingly. The Army had taught me to pick my fights carefully and to walk away from a hopeless situation. By 1987 I had moved to a nationwide corporate credit manager position with another company.

Near the end of the “Greed Decade,” we were given the mushroom treatment: We were kept in the dark, fed lots of manure and canned. I had been learning fax, CD, VHS and DVD; now I had to add RIF to my vocabulary. Miraculously, I immediately landed an even bigger job — until the same RIF happened one year later. I was 45 years old, with more past than future and with a family to support.

I’d find out soon enough that there was always “work.” “Career” was a thing of the past, swept away by the same corruption that would shut down the whole structure by the next generation. “Goodbye, Daddy!” Little did I know.

Tom Reilly is a 50-plus-year resident of Brookhaven and a member of the Ashford Alliance Community Association board of directors.