Doris Massell, 89: Ex-mayor’s wife was at ease with everyone

Doris Massell, wife of former Atlanta mayor Sam Massell, was known as kind and gracious.

Although low-key, friends said she held her own in any political and social setting and played a key part in her husband’s successful business and political career.

“Behind every good man is an even better woman,” said her friend Sue Stern of Atlanta. “Don’t count her out. She was a strong and feisty woman. She took good care of him. She was a loyal and loving friend, and she will be missed.”

Massell, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died Wednesday night at the age of 89. Visitation will begin at noon Friday followed by her funeral at 1 p.m. at The Temple in Atlanta.

Doris Middlebrooks was born on Nov. 23, 1925, in Griffin and grew up a Southern Baptist in Hogansville, Ga.

After graduating from high school, she moved to Atlanta to attend business school.

She later studied art at Georgia State University and continued taking classes with local artists and became a prolific painter in oils and watercolors.

She met Sam Massell at a supper club on Valentine’s Day in 1949. “I saw this redhead and tried to woo her away,” he recalled.

It was weeks before she would agree to go out with him. He even attended Sunday school at her Baptist church to get her attention. They got married in 1952, and she converted to the Jewish faith.

Massell began her career in the Atlanta office of the Texas Oil Company, where she worked 10 years. She later joined her husband and children in the family’s tourism business for 13 years.

Traveling became a lifelong passion that she enjoyed with family and friends.

“She and I traveled together a lot. We went to Rio de Janeiro and rode elephants in India,” said friend Sandra Gordy of Atlanta. “We also took annual trips to New York for shopping and shows. She loved New York.”

Massell also loved cruises and went on at least one each year.

“We took 73 cruises over the years. We cruised all over the world,” said her husband Sam Massell, founding president of the Buckhead Coalition. “She enjoyed visiting new destinations. But she never wanted to stay away too long. She was a loyal Atlantan.”

An avid reader, she also loved her book clubs and playing mahjong with friends.

“We traveled together. We played mahjong together. She was a lot of fun to be with,” said longtime friend Maxine Sherry of Atlanta. “She always had a smile on her face. I’m going to miss her friendship and our good times together.”

After his election as Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor in 1970, his wife monitored his calendar to ensure he kept his social appointments, Sam Massell said.

Outgoing and friendly, she was a great dancer who enjoyed attending galas and was at ease socializing with anyone – from celebrities to presidents.

“She was always ready to do her part to represent the city and my job,” her husband said. “Whether it was attending President Johnson’s inauguration or cooking a late-night breakfast for local officials after opening night for the Braves’ first game, she did it very well.”

In addition to her husband, Massell is survived by her son Steve Massell of Sandy Springs; daughters Cindy Massell of Atlanta and Melanie Jacobs of Bradenton, Fla., and three grandchildren.

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