Atlanta mayor hopeful Norwood maintains Augusta roots

ATLANTA --- Augusta would have claim to two mayors next year if Mary Norwood wins a Dec. 1 runoff for Atlanta's leadership.

Mrs. Norwood took the most votes in a six-person race Tuesday but wound up in a runoff against second-place finisher Kasim Reed. She led in fundraising and in every poll for the year leading up to the election.

She would be the city's second female mayor and the first white mayor in 36 years.

In many ways, her hometown launched her into politics. Her parents, Bill and Frenchie Bush, were active in civic affairs, starting a soup kitchen and serving in a variety of ways.

They had a special interest in preservation, helping found Historic Augusta and the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. They shared that interest with their oldest of six children, taking her to romp along the Savannah River and teaching her to appreciate architecture even as she rode her bike around her Forest Hills neighborhood or to her grandparents' homes in Sand Hills.

"Just think about those streets, just amazing wonderful communities," Mrs. Norwood said. "It was a great environment to grow up in."

After she married a college sweetheart at Emory University and settled in Atlanta, she was drawn to civic clubs and historic preservation. While she worked her way up from receptionist to executive vice president at Rounsaville Radio Stations and eventually launched her own Internet telephone company, she was also active in 39 organizations, holding more than 100 volunteer positions, according to her own tally.

Preservation of her Atlanta neighborhood pulled her into politics. In 1989, she led an effort to get her Tuxedo Park neighborhood declared a landmark. She decided to run for the city council after her efforts for landmark status failed there, despite help from former Augustans in Atlanta such as entrepreneur J.B. Fuqua and former Gov. Carl Sanders, a high-school beau of her mother.

"I thought how frustrating it must be for others who don't have the former governor and all these people helping them," she said.

As she's served on the council, she's continued to draw on a network of fellow Augustans who live in Atlanta, in addition to friends from school at St. Mary on the Hill and Augusta Prep, even though her high school graduating class had only about 20 students.

Did life in Augusta prepare her for the rough-and-tumble grind of politics?

"When you're the eldest of six children, you have a lot of responsibilities," she said. "Brothers and sisters called me Mother Mary. I have always been very serious and very determined in whatever I do."

Political observers say Mrs. Norwood worked longer and more energetically than any of the other five candidates in the mayor's contest. At the same time, she stressed her independence from the groups that often fuel Atlanta's politics, such as developers and civil-rights veterans.

She said she still keeps in touch with old friends in Augusta, visiting at least three times each year. Two brothers and sister live in Augusta, and she estimated 300 cousins were at her wedding.

And Augusta was where she first saw how others were tied to their home.

"What I saw in Augusta was a real love of the community from one end to the other," she said.

Reach Walter Jones at walter.jones@morris.com

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