THE WOMEN OF THE SOUTH ARE OFTEN REFERRED TO AS “Steel Magnolias,” sweet and charming with wits and nerves of steel. Some find that offensive; we celebrate it. Atlanta has always been home to smart, forward-thinking women who shattered glass ceilings and made substantial contributions to society. Whether it was in the arts, business, academia, the legal and medical worlds or civic actions, Atlanta’s history is full of female trailblazers who led the nation and world. As Travelgirl celebrates its 15th anniversary, we honor four trailblazing steel magnolias who continue to make the world a better place.
Civil Rights Champion: Xernona Clayton
THE INCREDIBLE XERNONA CLAYTON HAS championed civil rights all her life. In 1954, Xernona worked for the National Urban League in Chicago where she helped fight corporate racial discrimination. In 1965, she made Atlanta her home and continued her fight for justice by working for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
She also made her mark as a pioneer in the field of journalism. In 1967, she became the South’s first African American to host a primetime scheduled television show. While hosting The Xernona Clayton Show, she interviewed the Grand Dragon of the Georgia Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Her resolution was so powerful and her argument so strong that Xernona Influenced him to resign from the Klan and renounce the organization — a mighty achievement.
Her next career move took her to Turner Broadcasting where she worked as a documentary producer, director of public relations and corporate vice president for urban affairs, but she wasn’t done. In 1979, Turner started the Trumpet Awards to celebrate African Americans who achieved greatness and inspired it in others. In 2004, Xernona founded and became the CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation.
Short in stature but mighty in achievements, Xernona is heralded for her memorable and lasting accomplishments. Bravo to Xernona Clayton, a symbol of social justice and equality who, through her hard work and dedication, has made the world a better place for all.
The Honorable: Carol Hunstein
JUSTICE CAROL HUNSTEIN IS BRILLIANT, exceptionally accomplished, generous, kind and incredibly humble. She began her legal career in Atlanta in private practice. In 1984, she became the first woman elected as a superior court judge in the Stone Mountain Judicial Court. She continued to make history when in 1992, then Governor Zell Miller appointed her to the Georgia Supreme Court, making her the second woman in Georgia history to serve there. From 2005 until 2009, Justice Hunstein was Presiding Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and in 2009, she became Chief Justice, holding that position until 2013. Today she still serves Georgia as a Supreme Court Justice.
Carol paved the way for future women in the legal and judicial field and she’s proven that no dream is too big or out of reach. Her impressive professional biography includes everything from chairing the Supreme Court Commission on Access and Fairness in the Court, to being chosen as a Rosalynn Carter Honorary Fellow in Public Policy at the Emory University Institute for Women’s Studies.
She’s been an adjunct professor at Emory University School of Law and served on the Advisory Board of the Justice Center of Atlanta and the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention. Carol reached the top in her field with grace, determination and humility. She has championed equality for all, and fought tirelessly against gender, racial and ethnic bias. She’s the gold standard as a role model for women in all walks of life.
Political Powerhouse: Liane Levetan
IF YOU LOOK UP THE WORLD “MENSCH,” YOU JUST MIGHT see a photo of Liane Levetan. She embodies the word, selflessly serving DeKalb County, the State of Georgia, and women throughout the country. Many Georgia residents — and countless others across the nation — owe their careers to this shining star. Her generosity of spirit knows no bounds. Spend a day with Liane and you will be surrounded by a constant parade of women who come up to thank her for jumpstarting their careers. Loved by all who know her, this bastion of kindheartedness spends her days serving others; she’s only truly satisfied when she sees others succeed.
Her political career has had many highlights. In 1973, Liane became the first woman elected to the DeKalb County Board of Commission. She spent a decade making a difference by securing tax breaks and championing important causes. A staunch advocate of public transportation, Liane championed for the passage of MARTA, “Mass Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.” Liane believed in collaboration between public and private sectors and forged numerous landmark relationships that still stand today.
In 1993, she became the first female elected Chief Executive Officer of DeKalb County, which served more than 500,000 citizens with an annual budget that exceeded $800 million. In 2003, she became Senator Levetan, serving as a member of the Georgia General Assembly. Business-savvy with a determined spirit and a caring soul, Liane forged many firsts with a long list of admirable accomplishments. We tip our hat to this generous game-changer whose actions prove her devotion to the Georgia capital and its people; she is constantly advocating for those less fortunate. Her lifelong mission has been to help make Atlanta a better place for all who come here to live, work and visit.
Humanitarian Extraordinaire: Billi Marcus
BILLI MARCUS EMBODIES THE WORD PHILANTHROPIST and has put her magic touch on many important facets of the City of Atlanta. She has spent countless hours devoted to causes close to her heart and continues to make the world a better place through her humanitarian efforts. For more than 20 years, Billi anchored, organized and lent her name to a golf tournament benefitting the Shepherd Center, a nationally recognized comprehensive medical center treating patients with severe spinal cord injuries and veterans with PTSD. Billi and her husband, Home Depot Co-Founder and former Chairman Bernie Marcus, donated the necessary dollars to build a much-needed facility at Shepherd; the Billi Marcus Building allowed the center to expand outpatient services and provided space for its Multiple Sclerosis Institute.
Another of Billi’s beneficiaries is the Canine Assistants program, a non-profit organization that trains service dogs for adults and children with physical disabilities or other special needs. Most of Billi’s charitable gifts are done anonymously, under the radar — given with love and profound respect, and requiring no thanks or acknowledgement.
Her generosity of spirit endears her to all who know her, both professionally and personally. Her son Michael, the President of Travelgirl Magazine, absolutely adores her and calls on her when he needs sage advice on any topic. We salute Billi’s gracious nature and enduring compassion, and we’re thankful for her positive impact on the Atlanta landscape.