A new book chronicles Sam Massell’s life, tells Buckhead’s history and, the former mayor hopes, “sets the record straight on some issues.”
“It’s a marketing piece for Buckhead, in my opinion, but I also hope it encourages young people interested in politics to go into public service,” said Massell, who now is president of the Buckhead Coalition.
The book, titled “Play It Again, Sam: The Notable Life of Sam Massell,” was written by former Atlanta resident and author Charles McNair.
It chronicles Massell’s journey through careers in real estate, elected office and the tourism industry and as president of the Buckhead Coalition, a nonprofit civic association made up of 100 CEOs and other leaders in the community. The 200-page book shows why Massell has been nicknamed “The Mayor of Buckhead.”
“On Sam’s watch, Buckhead has become a brand name synonymous with sophisticated, stylish, unapologetic affluence,” McNair writes of Massell’s work as president of the Buckhead Coalition.
To develop material for the book, Massell spent evenings over the course of a year recalling old stories with his wife Sandra Gordy and with McNair.
He and Gordy spent a day at the Atlanta History Center reviewing documents and photos from Massell’s time as mayor.
“If I’d known what a big job it was I may not have done it,” he said of the book-writing process. “It’s nine decades of life the book covers,” said Massell, who turned 90 in August.
Over 100 photos are printed in the book, ranging from recent events to Massell’s days in in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
The book includes a photo of a fishing trip with Sidney Marcus, who was a representative in the Georgia House and Massell’s former college roommate. “He was a great friend and I miss him very much,” Massell said of Marcus, who died in 1983.
Massell said he wanted the book written so future generations of his family could read about him and also to “set the record straight on some issues.”
He wouldn’t say what those issues are — people will have to read the book to find out, he said — but he would say he believes even some of his friends will be surprised at certain stories.
The last chapter, titled “The Buckhead Boy,” details not only Massell’s work in Buckhead, but also the history of the community. It discusses Atlanta’s annexation of Buckhead in 1952 and the shift from a residential neighborhood to a bustling commercial center in the 1960s.
“Buckhead was were you slept, Atlanta where you played. It changed in less than a generation,” McNair writes.
Massell also warns in the book against Buckhead becoming its own city. He fearing the city of Atlanta would face financial difficulties if that happened.
“There’s no question in my mind that Buckhead could make a success of itself, on its own, as a new city. But we have to think further than self-interests here. We have to look at the bigger picture,” Massell says in the book.
Also detailed is the Buckhead Coalition’s work and accomplishments, most notably the extension of Ga. 400 through Buckhead. Massell recalls flying city councilmembers over the area in a helicopter to try to win their votes.
Massell was the city’s first Jewish mayor, a fact the book highlights with its tagline: “Atlanta’s First Minority Mayor.”
“[My election] showed there was a comfort level in the community at large that overrode its prejudices,” Massell said.
The book details Massell’s tenure as mayor from 1970-1974, including his role in appointing African Americans to city positions, which occurred peacefully, unlike in some other Southern cities, he said.
“It can fairly be said that Sam played a critical — and today widely underappreciated — role in Atlanta’s transition from city government under white leadership to city government under black leadership,” McNair writes.