Catalyst for change

Aug 31, 2017
  • By Charles McNair
Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell and his wife Sandra Gordy leave White House Restaurant in Buckhead on Sunday, July 23, 2017.

Sam Massell discovered his inner politician in 1943. 

The revelation came at Druid Hills High School. Massell, a junior, held a paintbrush in one hand and a freshly daubed campaign banner in the other.

His banner read: Goldstein for President!

When Sam’s charismatic classmate, Charlie Goldstein, announced a campaign for school president, he needed campaign workers. He had asked Sam, age 14, to help out. 

Sam initially hesitated. He considered himself shy at that time.

“It was a period when I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence,” Sam says.

He compensated by keeping a busy schedule.

In the Druid Hills High School yearbook, the caption under Sam’s class picture read: “Always has a checkbook and a harried look. Always busy.” 

Busy. “Buddy” Massell (he preferred the family nickname then) served on the student council. He started a bowling league and a stamp-collecting club. He operated a hallway sundries business at school with a special counter “so I would look like an operator,” he says.

Despite his deep personal misgivings, Buddy said yes to Goldstein and joined the campaign. 

The popular Goldstein won the election. Under school by-laws, the class president could appoint other officers. To Buddy’s astonishment, Goldstein named him school treasurer.

Twenty-six years later, Sam Massell would stand in front of cameras, flash a big smile and raise his arms in triumph as the newly elected mayor of Atlanta.

Learn about the rest of Sam Massell’s long and eventful career in Atlanta politics at the link below on

Read more of our Personal Journeys.