Up Close: Patrise Perkins-Hooker

In her professional life, Patrise Perkins-Hooker is helping shape the future of Atlanta Beltline Inc. by leading real estate purchases to enable the group’s vision of a 22-mile ring of parks, trails and transit in the city.

But outside the office, the Beltline’s vice president and general counsel has a passion for cooking, dancing, public speaking and helping those who are less fortunate.

The mixture of interests is part of the balance Perkins-Hooker has honed over the years as her career has evolved from representing businesses as an attorney to acting as an advocate for sexually exploited teen girls to acquiring real estate for the Beltline.

If she’s not on the road for work, her family — which includes a husband, two children, seven grandchildren and various siblings and in-laws — knows that Sunday is dinner at “Patrise’s house.”

On the menu: Southern cuisine of mac and cheese, oxtails, collard greens and lemon meringue pie.

“I really fancy myself as a gourmet chef,” Perkins-Hooker said. “I find cooking very relaxing and therapeutic.”

That’s important to Perkins-Hooker because she has seen devastation and inhumanity that can be overwhelming. She helps address homeless issues as vice chairwoman of Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless and was instrumental in creating a state juvenile justice fund to get young girls off the streets.

She recently returned from a trip to Mississippi with her church, the First Congregational Church in Atlanta, to help rebuilding efforts six years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

Q: You have a bachelor’s degree in industrial management from Georgia Tech, a Master of Business Administration from Emory University and a law degree from Emory. Why did you take that path?

A: I’m a native Atlantan. I grew up at a time when black businesses were here but they weren’t thriving. My goal was to get my MBA, but I was told what the community really needed was a corporate attorney who could help black businesses take it to the next level. So I broadened my goals.

Q: Do you think there were barriers that held black businesses back?

A: There was a combination of impediments and a lack of knowing how to grow the business. For instance, Paschal’s Restaurant, which was a business I did not work on, never thought about expanding to [Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport] when I was growing up. But today those businesses are thriving because they thought bigger.

Q: How did you get into the real estate side of business?

A: Some of the people who came to me for assistance were trying to acquire land. The clients’ needs guided me in that direction.

Q: How did you get involved with Atlanta Beltline Inc.?

A: They were my clients in my private practice. I just think it’s a wonderful idea and a dream for the city to bring a massive opportunity for growth through this project, and I wanted to be a part of that.

Q: What is your role?

A: I’m behind the scenes trying to acquire land and make sure we have all the little pieces right, like construction contracts, insurance, those kinds of things. A lot of what I do is to make sure we comply with federal and state guidelines, of which there are many when you are taking on a project with the kind of scale we are undertaking.

Q: You were named earlier this month secretary for the Georgia State Bar Association.

A: Yes, I couldn’t believe it. I have worked hard in the organization, and it’s important to me that I’m the first African-American in that job because it helps other people of color envision being in leadership roles. There is an assumption in this day that there are no more firsts on issues of race, but there are. There are still areas where we have not been represented.

Q: In your recent trip to help post-Katrina cleanup, were you surprised there was still need six years after the storm?

A: Yes. I was there to be a cook for our congregation, but I did get out to see some of the communities and how they were faring. We took a trip to New Orleans and I was surprised to see that the Lower 9th Ward still had not returned. I try to do these things once or twice a year, but they get to you emotionally. Just seeing people who have been through incredible devastation and pain can be very overwhelming.

Meet Patrise Perkins-Hooker

Age: 53

Family: Husband, two daughters, seven grandchildren

Born: Atlanta

Education: Georgia Tech, Emory University

Job: General counsel and vice president, Atlanta Beltline Inc.