RIP Mack Burgess: An 'untamed lion' in a GOP aide's garb

Mack Burgess was a golf guru who could instantly recall the winner of the 1948 Masters Tournament - and somehow finagled an invite from green-jacketed Augusta officials to play the course in his teens.

He was a "special sort of gentleman" who pushed the crowd to stay out for just one more drink but always took care to make the fidgety newcomer at the back of the table feel at ease.

He was a swashbuckling ship's captain - its name was "Wild Thing" - who plied the Caribbean on a momentous adventure. The scholar who, with the help of a life-changing scholarship, embraced Tennessee's orange despite a room full of red-and-black memorabilia back home. The prodigy who spotted golfer Davis Love III from afar - at the age of three.

"Everyone who knew him had to recharge their cells five times this week trying to keep up with all the stories," said Faison Middleton, a family friend.

They shared stories about his maverick personality, his golfing adventures and his time in Georgia's political trenches working for the likes of Tricia Pridemore and Gov. Nathan Deal, who were in the audience.

"He was an untamed lion in a GOP staffer's uniform," said his friend, Greg Colella. Then: "There was a bonfire in that kid's soul. And it burned like the sun."

His father, Banks Burgess, singled out one story in particular.

Mack had applied for an elite scholarship that offered the winner a full ride to college, and his father paced nervously outside a restaurant as the teen and his rivals faced the questions. A relieved Mack burst from the room, eager to tell his father about the experience. Banks still remembers his answer to the final inquiry, the one that helped him seal the win.

The question: If you could have dinner with three people in history, who would it be?

Abe Lincoln was his first response, for preserving the Union under incredible pressure. And Bobby Jones, the famous golfer, was no surprise either. But it was his third response that startled even his father: William F. Buckley. Why, he asked his son, did you pick the conservative commentator?

"He told me Buckley was so famous for having dinner parties with people of divergent ideas and faiths," said Banks. "They would argue ferociously at dinner, but they would leave the table as friends."

His father, bursting with pride, said at that moment he didn’t care a lick whether his son won the scholarship.

"I'd like to think that's a quality that Mack leaves us with."

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.