September 2001: Vol. 80, No. 4

Mr. Chamber

Lindsay Thomas named "Most Respected CEO" for 2001

by Ed Lightsey

To explain the importance of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to a group of 350 Rotarians in Columbus last spring, president/CEO Lindsay Thomas told a story about a 15-pound turkey. Or, more precisely, the business community's battle with a Clinton Administration regulation requiring businesses to use two workers to handle any package weighing 15 pounds or more.

Thomas (BS '67) served five terms in Congress, was director of governmental affairs for ACOG, and has made the state Chamber of Commerce a powerful lobbying force in Washington.
"Imagine two people handling a 15-pound turkey," said Thomas (BS '67), who was named the Most Respected CEO of 2001 by Georgia Trend magazine. "The regulation would have cost Georgia businesses no telling how much money."

Thomas described how his organization joined with other business groups to successfully lobby Congress to repeal the regulation: "That's what your state Chamber is for—so you will have a voice on these issues."

A farmer, one-time banker, five-term congressman, and self-styled conservationist, Thomas has built the Chamber into a powerful lobbying group that politicians ignore at their peril. Since Thomas took over in September 1996, membership has increased from 1,800 to 3,300, which makes the Chamber much more powerful, whether it's rallying behind economic development initiatives or lobbying against legislation deemed detrimental to business and industry.

Thomas knows the corporate world, but he may know rural Georgia even better. The schooling began at the knee of his daddy, James Murphy "Son" Thomas, a popular farmer in Pierce County. Lindsay's was a typical Southern rural childhood of fishing, hunting and exploring the woods near his home. When Thomas talks to rural audiences, there's an unspoken bond.

Thomas graduated from UGA with a degree in English, worked briefly as a banker and a stockbroker before leaving the financial world to operate a farm left to him by his uncle. A downturn in farm prices, soaring interest rates, and drought propelled him into a successful race for the 1st District congressional seat in 1982.

Thomas served that mostly rural district from 1983-93, gaining a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and earning a reputation as a capable middle-of-the-roader who supported environmental causes. In 1993, he took a job as director of governmental affairs for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, which faced rough sledding from rural legislators skeptical of anything to do with Atlanta. What better figure to lobby the legislature than Thomas, a respected congressman from the little farm village of Screven (pop. 900)? Thomas was a godsend to ACOG, which had none of its legislation seriously challenged.

But Thomas' bedrock work is with the Georgia Chamber.

"We need leaders who understand the technology-driven international marketplace," says Bill O'Connor, chairman of the Alabama Business Council, which invited Thomas to issue-strategy sessions. "With his background in Congress, Lindsay Thomas is an important partner on national issues. It's good to have Lindsay on the side of business."

A similar story appeared in Georgia Trend, which granted reprint rights.

The president's men (part one)

Ted Kassinger thought he was headed for a career in environmental design, but he ended up as general counsel for the sprawling U.S. Department of Commerce

by Kent Hannon

Ted Kassinger works in a building the size of Sanford Stadium, which would seem an appropriate metaphor for his task as the newly confirmed general counsel of the sprawling U.S. Department of Commerce. But considering all the legal matters, foreign and domestic, that Kassinger (BLA '75, JD '78) and his 300-attorney staff have to deal with—from the integration of China into the world market to salmon problems in the Columbia River basin—a more appropriate vantage point might be the Washington Monument.

Kassinger (BLA '75, JD '78) deals with issues that range from China's integration into the world market to salmon problems.
You don't apply for Ted Kassinger's job. The president has to nominate you. Congress has to confirm you. And you better be prepared for close scrutiny because, in this particular instance, Kassinger's boss, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, is the President's closest friend and the man who chaired his election campaign.

Census Bureau. Patent and Trademark Office. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Export Administration. Economic Development Agency. These huge federal agencies all fall under the Commerce umbrella. And when they run into legal problems, they speed-dial Ted Kassinger, his immediate staff, or the attorneys who ultimately report to him from the agency bureaus.

"NOAA consumes more than half of Commerce's budget," says Kassinger, "with major responsibilities in areas like global warming, fisheries management, and coastal zone protection. Much of that work involves balancing critical commercial interests with difficult environmental issues."

Kassinger was born in Atlanta, but ended up going to high school in Athens when his father went to work for UGA after retiring from the FBI in 1968. Ed Kassinger created UGA's Department of Public Safety and also ran the Northeast Georgia Police Academy until he retired from UGA in 1984. "He was a perfect fit," says Ted of his late father. "Not just because of his law enforcement background, but because of his searching, inquiring mind. He loved the academic community."

Like four of his six siblings, Ted followed his father's path to UGA and ultimately into government service, but he had no idea it would turn out that way. "I was an environmental design major, and I spent long hours for five years to get my degree. It was a struggle, but I fully expected a career working outdoors."

When Kassinger was chair of the speakers program for University Union, he asked former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who was still fairly new to campus, to help him line up speakers—and his association with Rusk changed his life.

"He gave me a list of books to read, beginning with Dean Atcheson's autobiography, Present at the Creation," says Kassinger. "And he figured out a lot of things about me before I did. I fell under his spell . . . and a great magnet kept pulling me in the direction of doing something international."

A similar story appeared in UGA's law school magazine, The Advocate, which granted reprint rights.

The president's men (part two)

Spence Pryor directed George W. Bush's victorious campaigns in Georgia, and was then dispatched to Florida to help straighten out the recount maelstrom

by Kent Hannon

When Spence Pryor was a kid, one of the things he liked to do best was visit the Georgia Supreme Court. When the proceedings concluded for the day, Pryor (AB '96, JD '99) would take the elevator to Chief Justice T.O. Marshall's private quarters, where he was allowed to wear the justice's long black robe and pretend he was handing down precedent-setting decisions. Grandfathers are like that—even those who are chief justices.

Pryor (AB '96, JD '99) is the grandson of T.O. Marshall (JD '48), who was chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
"My grandfather was a real role model for me," says Pryor. "I watched how he interacted with his peers and I could see the respect they had for him. It made me want to aspire to that level."

When Pryor was a sophomore at UGA, Justice Marshall (JD '48) spoke to his political science class. The story that fascinated Charles Bullock's students that day was a ruling Marshall made during his days as a Superior Court judge in Americus that helped Jimmy Carter win election to the state senate.

"Ironic, isn't it?" says Pryor, who had been out of law school for just 18 months when he was thrust headlong into the Bush-Gore recount maelstrom in Florida. "Austin called on the Wednesday morning after the election. Someone in the political shop asked me if I was available to go to Florida and help the recount attorneys. I said, 'Yes,' and they said, 'Pack your bags.'"

Pryor had never been in a courtroom, aside from his field trips to the Georgia Supreme Court as a kid and his 2-0 record with the UGA prosecutorial clinic, but he had made a name for himself as executive director of Bush's victorious primary and general election campaigns in Georgia.

With "chads" suddenly a buzz word in the nation's vocabulary and most of the country fixated on the partially perforated ballot controversy in Palm Beach County, Pryor was dispatched to Seminole County, where a mellower drama was unfolding regarding overseas absentee ballots, most of which figured to be for Bush because they came mainly from military personnel. When it was revealed that GOP volunteers had completed 6,000 partially-filled-out absentee ballot request forms, the Gore team filed suit. If they could invalidate those 6,000 ballots, the battle in Palm Beach would be a moot point and Al Gore would be the next president.

"I was involved in every aspect of that lawsuit, and we were right," says Pryor. "It was a bogus case. The controversy had to do with absentee ballot request forms, not the absentee ballots themselves. There's a big difference, and until the trial was over reporters were getting that wrong."

Following the election, Pryor received a presidential appointment in the Assistant Attorney General's office. He is now a special assistant U.S. Attorney.

"Three days into this new job, I had already drafted a response to a defendant's motion to suppress evidence and served as lead counsel on a probation revocation hearing," says Pryor. "For a young attorney who wants to be a litigator, this is like being a kid in a candy store."

A similar story appeared in UGA's law school magazine, The Advocate, which granted reprint rights.

Cookin' history with Hoppin' John

Charleston gourmet John Martin Taylor has taken his best-selling cookbooks and retail operation into cyberspace

by J. Michael McLaughlin

John Martin Taylor has lived and worked in France, Italy, and the Caribbean. He's done his residency in the canyons of New York, and survived the slings and arrows of the book publishing industry. Through it all, the Charleston-based gourmet has remained a true Southerner.

"I really wanted to be an architect," says Taylor (ABJ '71, MA '77), who has closed his Charleston retail shop and switched to an e-business format ( with his cookbooks, recipes, food products, and favorite cookery. It's not such a departure from architecture; Taylor was always curious about his Southern heritage.

Taylor's best-selling cookbook recently came out in paperback (Bantam), and he has written three more.
"My parents were what you'd call 'serious gourmands,' and authentic Southern cooking was a part of our daily lives," says Taylor, who inherited from his mother a huge collection of regional (mostly Southern) cookbooks. "As I waded into this odd gastronomical legacy, I was particularly intrigued with one 1920s volume from the rural Pinopolis area, most of which now lies flooded under Lake Marion. I kept finding wonderful recipes and dishes I'd never heard of—and I began to toy with the idea of writing a scholarly work on the lowcountry's culinary history."

The project would take nearly eight years, but it was encouraged and informed by a worldwide curiosity about regional cuisine.

"I was living in Paris hoping to get a job with a chic French-language magazine published there about America," Taylor recalls. "I kept inviting the magazine people to dinner, trying to get them to hire me as an art director. Apparently my cooking made a better impression than my art. I wound up as food editor instead."

Taylor moved back to the States and opened a retail store stocked with selected cookbooks and related products. He called it "Hoppin' John's" after the traditional New Year's Day rice dish served by generations of lowcountry families to ensure good luck. The store soon gained an international reputation as a 24-hour resource for information about Southern regional cuisine, and he continued to research old recipes and dining traditions of the Carolina lowcountry.

The fruits of his editorial labors, Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking (Bantam, 1992), was described by one reviewer as "the prototype for any serious regional American cookbook." And he's written three more: The New Southern Cook (Bantam, 1995), Hoppin' John's Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah (Clarkson Potter), and The Fearless Frying Cookbook (Workman).

"Southern cooking has never been a restaurant phenomenon," says Taylor. "It's home cooking. That's why it's so elusive. You'll find true Southern cooking on the dining room tables of hunters and fishermen and landowners who've somehow never broken with their past and/or their family's deep connection with the land."

J. Michael McLaughlin and co-author Lee Davis Todman (ABJ '76) have just completed the seventh edition of The Insider's Guide to Charleston (Globe Pequot Press).

She flies through the air . . .

This intrepid writer exorcized her childhood clumsiness by becoming a trapeze artist

by Mary Jessica Hammes (ABJ '99)

The first time I flew was in a recurring childhood dream. I'd race down a hill near my house, leap into the air, and float effortlessly above my neighborhood.

The next time I flew, I wasn't asleep. And while I never wanted to join the circus, I know the rush Ringling Brothers high flyers feel because I'm now hell-bent to become . . . a trapeze star. Okay, maybe not a star, but some friends and I have created the Athens (Uninsured) Circus of the Bars—and it's so much fun!

Picked last in P.E., Hammes (who debuted at Tasty World ) is having the last laugh.
I wasn't an athletic kid, or even graceful. I was picked last for every team in P.E., and my lack of coordination certainly didn't bode well for this kind of hyper-athletic hobby. But a year ago, I got a chance to see Susan Murphy's flying dance trapeze class at UGA, and I was instantly intrigued. It seemed like a good feature story topic for the Athens Banner-Herald, where I work—but it turned out to be much more.

Murphy, an adjunct professor in UGA's dance department and the proprietor of a new Athens trapeze studio, suggested I take a beginner's class, and she was kind enough not to wince or laugh at my initial flailing of limbs and wobbly mounts to the bar. Slowly but surely, I began to look like I might not kill myself. My stiff body became stronger and more limber, and with each swing my fear of heights lessened. Ankle hangs toughened my feet and I wore my bruises like a badge of honor.

In a total flight of fancy, I scheduled a debut performance for the Athens (Uninsured) Circus of the Bars at Athens' Tasty World bar during last summer's AthFest—where everybody I know could see me make a fool of myself. Fear gripped me and my trapeze partner, Dana Poole, before the show. Knowing it would look bad if we became nauseous in mid-air, we vowed not to do that. But would we remember anything we'd learned? Would we end up at Athens Regional?

As we were introduced, a wave of applause washed over us, causing us to smile coquettishly and wave in character. Some sort of magic seemed to be happening as we scrambled to the trapeze. We almost missed the first note of the "Peter Gunn Mambo," buried as it was beneath the roar of the crowd. We recovered and bravely launched our bodies into the air, feeling like weightless vessels barely tethered to the earth. A warm ease enveloped my muscles as the crowd responded.

I knew the circus was a hit when an Athens commissioner called me by name and asked when the next performance was scheduled. Which is not to say that the Athens (Uninsured) Circus of the Bars has delusions of grandeur. Far from it. But the feeling I got from rigging the trapezes to the ceiling for our summer debut was both vaudevillian and intoxicating . . . I can't wait to do it again!

Mary Jessica Hammes (ABJ '99) is a staff writer for the Athens Banner-Herald.

Passing of the gavel

When Norman Fletcher succeeded Robert Benham as chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, it was an all-Bulldog affair

by Gardner Linn (ABJ '01, AB '01)

Norman Fletcher and Robert Benham were appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court on the same day: Dec. 28, 1989. Benham (JD '70) was sworn in first, so when Chief Justice Willis B. Hunt left the court in 1995, the justices elected Benham chief justice by virtue of his seniority.

"He had seniority by 15 minutes or so," jokes Fletcher (BA '56, LLB '58), who was sworn in as Benham's successor on June 28. Fletcher's first few weeks as chief justice have been eventful ones, with a host of administrative duties and two highly publicized death penalty cases to consider.

Left to right: Fletcher (BA '56, LLB '58) accepts congratulations from Benham (JD '70), his friend and colleague since their joint swearing-in back in 1989.
Fletcher came to the UGA campus from Fitzgerald in 1952. He was an active member of a student body that then numbered fewer than 5,000 students, and his role as president of Phi Delta Theta fraternity brought him into frequent contact with Dean William Tate. During rush week, the brothers argued passionately over who they would ask to join the fraternity, and one night the discussions got so loud there was a knock at the door.

"I went to the front door, and Dean Tate was standing there in his nightshirt and trousers," says Fletcher. "'Mr. Fletcher, I thought I had seen everything,' he said, 'but this is the first time I have had the dead complain about the noise. If it doesn't change, you and your fraternity will be off campus.' I knew Dean Tate well, and there wasn't a lot of due process in those days. I assured him we would hold it down."

Fletcher was practicing law in LaFayette when he was appointed to the Supreme Court, and he and Benham have been colleagues and friends ever since. When he succeeded Benham as chief justice, he continued a tradition of having Bulldogs heading all three branches of state government. Benham, the first African American elected to a statewide post, recalls what brought him to UGA:

"When the recruiter came, he said, 'Do you want to come to Georgia?' I said, 'Well, professor, I appreciate you coming to see me, but I'm considering going somewhere else.' And he said, 'Well, you're a native Georgian. If you expect the problems of Georgia to be solved, you're going to have to be willing to help solve them.'"

In his six years as chief justice, Benham raised the high court's profile and sense of community by holding sessions at high schools, colleges, and state parks, and by examining alternative methods of sentencing criminals, such as drug courts and treatment programs. In his remarks at his investiture ceremony at the state capital, Fletcher outlined two goals that will continue this spirit of outreach: strengthening the judicial council and improving the state's system of indigent defense.

In his remarks at the investiture ceremony, Fletcher quoted Wyatt Anderson, dean of UGA's Franklin College:

"[Anderson said] 'Learning is something that all of us do on a university campus, not just students. Every day of their lives, faculty members are learning.' Well, the same can be said of judges—every day of a judge's life should be a learning experience."

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