Robert ‘Bob’ Ledbetter, 81: Early investor in Atlanta pro sports teams

Bob Ledbetter was part of a who’s who of Georgia businessmen who pooled their money and brought professional basketball, hockey and soccer to Atlanta in the 1970s.

“As far as investments go, it wasn’t a great one,” Ledbetter’s son, E. Wright Ledbetter, said. “But he said he would do it all over again because he had so much fun being a part of that.”

Robert “Bob” Harbin Ledbetter Sr., 81, successful businessman, philanthropist and a former part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks and the defunct Atlanta Flames and Atlanta Apollos, died May 10. He was at home in Rome and surrounded by family.

A funeral service was Monday at Darlington School’s Morris Chapel in Rome.

A native of Rome, Ledbetter received his bachelor’s degree in industrial management from Georgia Tech in 1958 and then served as a Navy lieutenant on the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga.

After the military, he joined his father’s company in Rome and began a successful career in highway construction, mining and real estate development.

“He was very astute in business even in his later days,” said Toni Gwinn, office manager at R.H. Ledbetter Properties LLC and the personal assistant to Ledbetter and his wife, Betty.

“He was a huge presence in Rome and Cartersville commercial development,” Gwinn said.

Wright Ledbetter said his father was “very competitive.”

“I think that was a major impetus for his drive both professionally and philanthropically,” he said.

The older Ledbetter was “very shrewd, very smart and very disciplined,” his son said.

“Those are the elements that made him a successful entrepreneur.”

Ledbetter had a diverse business portfolio, as well as civic and philanthropic interests.

At 26, due to his father’s death, Ledbetter took charge of the family business, now known as R.H. Ledbetter Properties LLC. The company, which marks 90 years later this year, is now run by his three sons and has developed and managed commercial real estate totaling 2 million square feet in five states in the Southeast.

He co-founded First Rome Bank and Georgia State Bank of Rome, both of which later were acquired by Regions Financial.

Ledbetter was “a tireless entrepreneur,” sometimes working seven days a week. He passed that spirit on to his children, who growing up learned that, regardless of roadblocks, quitting any pursuit “was never an option,” Wright Ledbetter said. “I think that was a great lesson he taught my brothers and me.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, the older Ledbetter invested in an effort led by well-known businessman Tom Cousins and others, in bringing the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, Atlanta Flames hockey team and the Atlanta Apollos (best known as the Atlanta Chiefs) soccer team to town, his son said.

“He took great pleasure in being a part of that group,” he said.

In the Hawks’ 25th anniversary book from 1992, Bob Ledbetter is listed as a member of the franchise’s board of directors from 1972-1974.

Family said he was devoted to Rome and the state, serving in numerous civic and business organizations, including Georgians for Better Transportation, the American Road Builders Association and Georgia Tech Alumni Board of Trustees.

A baseball complex and the business school at Shorter University in Rome bear his name. At Georgia Tech, he established the Robert H. Ledbetter, Sr. Professor of the Practice of Real Estate Development at the Ernest Scheller, Jr. College of Business.

His philanthropic work largely involved youth and education. For more than 50 years, he was on the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Northwest Georgia.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, the former Betty Dandridge Wright; three sons, Robert H. Ledbetter, E. Wright Ledbetter and David D. Ledbetter, all of Rome; and nine grandchildren.

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