"They're the most incredibly warm and connected family I've dealt with," said Denis Reggie, an Atlanta photographer who has chronicled several milestones for the family during the past two decades.
"That whole scenario is very surprising to me," he said. "I'm sure there are two sides to every story. The truth is they're just a wonderfully warm family. Father to son to uncle to sister to brother, they’re just a loving family."
With characteristic modesty, the Rollinses have preferred to share their time and fortune not with grand public gestures but through their charity, the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation. The foundation is named for family patriarch Orville Wayne, once one of Forbes' richest men, who died in 1991.
Over the years, the foundation's beneficiaries have included Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, Young Harris College, Camp Sunshine in Decatur for children with cancer, a United Nations campaign to fight mosquito bites and a number of Georgia churches needing aid to maintain their cemeteries.
The battle royale in the family erupted just a year after the death of the family's 98-year-old matriarch, Grace Crum Rollins.
On Aug. 23, Rollins siblings Glen W., Ruth Ellen, Nancy Louise, and O. Wayne II filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court against their father, Gary Rollins, and their uncle, R. Randall Rollins, over two trusts established for them. The suit seeks information on the trusts, the siblings' attorney said.
The lawsuit also names another board member, Henry B. Tippie, who, with Gary and R. Randall oversees those trusts.
On Aug. 25, the children's mother, Ruth M. Rollins, petitioned for divorce from Gary, seeking to dissolve their nearly 45-year marriage.
The "marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken" and "there is no hope for reconciliation," according to the petition, which also was filed in Fulton County Superior Court.
On Tuesday, the Rollins board, led by CEO Gary W. Rollins, 66, and chairman R. Randall Rollins, 78, fired Gary's son Glen, 44, an executive vice president and leader of Rollins' most recognizable brand, Orkin pest control.
"It is highly unfortunate that Rollins Inc., whose operations are not involved in the lawsuit, chose to respond by firing the only one of the children that was employed there," said the siblings' attorney, Mickey Mixson. "My clients have always been ready to resolve this dispute without invoking legal process and regret that they were compelled to do so."
Mixson said the siblings' suit seeks "information to which they are entitled as a matter of law" regarding the trusts. Details of the action are unavailable becuase it was filed under court seal and will remain so for a 30-day period.
Gary and R. Randall's attorney, John J. Dalton, also declined comment, as did Tippie, the Rollins Inc. board member. Ruth Rollins' attorney, John C. Mayoue, a veteran of high-profile divorces, also declined comment.
"All of this is very unusual. Family businesses don't typically act this way, though it's not unheard of," said Joseph Astrachan, executive director of the Cox Family Enterprise Center at the Kennesaw State University's Coles College of Business and nationally known expert on issues affecting family-run businesses.
"The family dynamic causes this; it's not this that changes the family dynamic," he said. "People typically don't go to the level of suing unless you have been cajoled in that direction. For a group of children, it's very unusual. It means things have gotten really, really bad."
In the near term, it is not clear what effect, if any, legal squabbling among the family might have on the company's operations.
Rollins Inc. is majority-owned by the family and entities it controls. The family also has interests in Dover Downs Entertainment, a Delaware company that owns a casino and hotel as well as horse and auto racing tracks. Dover Downs is the partner of John Aderhold and Dan O'Leary in a bid announced last year proposing a casino at Underground Atlanta.
A major strategic move by Rollins Inc., such as buying another company, might be put on hold without a consensus of the family, but daily operations will remain under the direction of the company’s top officers.
Rollins Inc. has largely been recession-proof. The company recorded profits of $83.9 million in 2009, up 21 percent over 2008, thanks in part to the 2008 acquisition of HomeTeam Pest Defense and Crane.
Its second-quarter profits this year hit $27.7 million, up about 9 percent from the same period a year ago.