Thomasville Times Enterprise

February 11, 2014

J. Mack Robinson


THOMASVILLE — J. Mack Robinson, born May 7, 1923 in East Atlanta to Odell and John Oscar Robinson, was one of Georgia’s most exceptional business leaders, a generous philanthropist and a devoted husband, father and grandfather. He was Chairman Emeritus of Gray Television, Inc., Atlantic American Corporation, and Delta Life Insurance Company, three of the enterprises that he headed for many years and among dozens of businesses that were created, acquired or financially backed by him.  Early in his life Mack Robinson displayed the work ethic that made him successful. He began delivering the Atlanta Journal when he was ten and soon had his own route. By the age of 15 he was a district circulation manager with 30 carriers under his supervision. After graduation from Boys High in Atlanta in 1941, he attended the Evening School of Commerce, later Georgia State University, before enrolling in the Emory University business school.  After America entered World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, studying radar technology at Georgia Tech, followed by the Army Specialized Training Program at Oklahoma A&M.  He was then assigned to Army intelligence at Vint Hill Farms Station in Virginia, advancing to the rank of First Sergeant before being honorably discharged in June 1946.  On his return from the War he turned deposits he had made to buy one of the first cars produced after the War into a used car business. He began financing the sale of cars which led to the birth of Dixie Finance Company and Gulf Finance Corporation and expanding to nearly 200 offices in the Southeast. He also founded Delta Life Insurance Company and Delta Fire and Casualty Insurance Company. Later he acquired Atlantic American Corporation, whose flagship subsidiaries include Bankers Fidelity Life Insurance Company and American Southern Insurance Company.  In 1966 he entered the banking business and over the next decade acquired or established 23 community banks across Georgia. During that time he sold his finance businesses to First National Bank of Atlanta and became its largest shareholder, continuing to hold that distinction after the bank merged with Wachovia. He served on the boards of directors of First Atlanta and Wachovia.  In 1993 he acquired controlling interest in Gray Communications, Inc., and from its base of three television stations in Georgia, Florida and Louisiana, built Gray Television into a company that now operates a network of stations in 31 markets across the United States.  Mack Robinson’s business genius produced surprises, none more unexpected than his backing of the Parisian haute couture house launched in 1962 by young Yves Saint Laurent, who became the world’s most famous fashion designer. Mack and Yves maintained their friendship until the designer’s death in 2008.  The other numerous ventures that Mack acquired, started or backed financially included Rhodes Furniture Company, Metcalf Lumber Company, Del-Cook Lumber Company, Tri-State Systems (outdoor advertising), Villa Carpet Mills, Data South Computer (computer printers), Host Communications (sports marketing), Triple Crown Media (newspaper group), Leath and Modernage Furniture Companies and Tindol Pest Control.  He was for many years a breeder and racer of thoroughbreds, acquiring a south Georgia plantation that he named Rosewood. Among the many winners from the Robinson stables was Cherokee Run, champion of the 1994 Breeders Cup Sprint and National Sprinter of the Year. In recognition of his contributions to the thoroughbred industry, he received life membership in the Jockey Club.  Generous to a fault, Mack Robinson made a transformative gift to Georgia State University’s business college, afterward renamed the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. It was the largest cash gift the university had ever received, and for Mack Robinson it was a privilege to “further the growing stature of one of the leading business schools in America and the world.”  Mack and his wife, Nita, were named Georgia Philanthropists of the Year in 1994. In 1995 Mack received the Hope Award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame by the College of Business Administration at Georgia State and was awarded an honorary degree by Oglethorpe University.  Mack served as a life member of the board of directors of the High Museum of Art, a director of the Woodruff Arts Center and director emeritus of the Westminster Schools. He was a member of the Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church and EEE Sunday School class and a member of the Peachtree Golf Club, Piedmont Driving Club and Capital City Country Club.  He is survived by his wife of fifty-four years, Nita, daughter Robin Robinson Howell and son-in-law Hilton H. Howell, Jr., of Atlanta, daughter Jill Robinson Forsey and son-in-law Alan P. Forsey of San Diego, California; nine grandchildren, Hilton III, Alston, Anna and Julia Howell, and Sara, Laura, William, Elizabeth and Thomas Forsey; a brother, Marvin Lewis Robinson and his wife, Eve, of Alpharetta; and many nieces and nephews.  To those who knew him, J. Mack Robinson was the quintessential Southern gentleman, unpretentious, genteel and gracious. He touched and enriched countless lives, leaving a legacy of true friendships and generosity that will continue into the future. He will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.  Due to forecasted inclement weather the memorial service has been rescheduled for 2 o’clock on Friday, February 14, at Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church. The family will receive friends immediately after the service in the Robinson Atrium at the High Museum of Art. . There will be a private family burial.  In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center c/o Emory University Health Sciences Development 1440 Clifton Road, Suite 112 Atlanta, Georgia 30322 or the High Museum of Art 1280 Peachtree St., NE Atlanta Georgia 30309.  Online condolences may be made at — H. M. Patterson Springhill