Bunnie Jackson-Ransom, businesswoman, former city first lady, dead at 82

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

Burnella Hayes grew up in tiny Louisburg, North Carolina, in the 1940s and 1950s with an outhouse behind her home on a street that is still unpaved.

By the time she made it to Durham to attend North Carolina College in 1957, she had given herself a new name — Bunnie, which her daughter said was an expression of freedom and growth.

Credit: Courtesy of family

Credit: Courtesy of family

“My mother was an aspirational young woman and the only child of two educators,” said her daughter Brooke Jackson Edmond. “She was always very focused on honing her intellect and creating opportunities for herself. She used education as her ticket to a more interesting life. That is what she told me, and that is what she accomplished.”

Hayes moved to Atlanta in 1965, where she spent nearly 60 years as a leading Black businesswoman, building a public relations firm, managing soul music acts and working with civic organizations.

As the then-wife of Mayor Maynard Jackson, she also served as Atlanta’s first Black first lady,

“She had that natural charm that was from the heart and not fake,” said her son, Maynard H. “Buzzy” Jackson III. “It was all about helping people for her.”

Edmond said: “People came to love my mother because of her work in the community on a grassroots level, the people on projects that mattered to her in her community.”

Her work led to many awards from business, civic and government organizations.

Burnella “Bunnie” Hayes Jackson-Ransom died Thursday at the age of 82 surrounded by family in hospice at Emory University Hospital.

Edmond said that she had been dealing with an aggressive form of dementia, accelerated by a recent bout with COVID-19 and a stroke.

Her funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 13, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Murray Brothers Funeral Home is handling the services.

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Bunnie Jackson-Ransom

In recognizing Jackson-Ransom’s passing, Gov. Brian Kemp said her “grace and leadership left a lasting impact on not just those who she encountered, but the entirety of the Atlanta community.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens called her an “incredible force.

“I will forever remember our former first lady for her lively spirit and the boundless energy she brought to all she undertook,” Dickens said. “Bunnie loved our city and we loved her back.”

Burnella Jane Hayes was born on Nov. 16, 1940, to Elizabeth Day Hayes and Burnalle James Hayes, a former professional baseball player in the Negro Leagues.

After graduating in 1962 from what would become North Carolina Central University, she stuck around to get her master’s degree there before working briefly at Bennett College, one of two all-women historically Black colleges and universities.

She was married to former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson from 1965-1976 and was by his side when he was elected Atlanta’s first Black mayor in 1973.

As first lady she boosted the arts and was responsible for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s return to Atlanta, family said. She also convinced the High Museum to hang an exhibit by Ernie Barnes in the galleria of Symphony Hall. Exhibitions by Bennie Andrews and Romare Bearden followed.

Sue Ross, who worked on Jackson’s first mayoral campaign and later held roles at City Hall, called her a “forceful personality [who] always expressed what was on her mind.”

“Living a life in a fishbowl is difficult. It’s hard to maintain a family life and at the same time maintain a public life,” Ross said. “It can take a toll in many ways.”

But after her divorce, Jackson-Ransom thrust herself into several fields, including public relations, marketing, music management, education and writing.

“The bulk of mommy’s life happened after she divorced my dad,” Edmond said.

In 1975, she founded First Class, Inc., a public relations and marketing firm, and served as the president and CEO until she retired in 2020.

As founder and president of Atlanta Artists Management, she managed the recording career of acts such as Cameo, Larry Blackmon, Brick and The S.O.S. Band. She met and married Ray Ransom, a musician, in 1978, but they later divorced.

Edmond said her mother’s work in the music industry was her most exciting, but often most frustrating times — where she led acts up the charts and to Grammy nominations, only to watch them leave her for bigger agencies.

But, Edmond said, “Her real passion, what she loved the most, was working with Atlantans on issues that mattered to their communities and getting to know people.”

Jackson was a member and leader in some of the city’s leading social and cultural organizations, including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc; Jack & Jill and the Links.

She served as the Atlanta branch president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Virginia W. Harris, the executive national director praised Jackson-Ransom’s organizational skills and her political savvy.

“She knew how to balance things out,” Harris said. “She could get people talking and agreeing to disagree without everybody getting upset.”

Jackson-Ransom also penned two books “Getting the Word Out: How to Market Your Ministry,” and “Memoirs of a Life Well Lived: The first “First Lady” from S.W.A.T.S.”

Jackson-Ransom is survived by three daughters, Elizabeth Jackson Hodges, Brooke Jackson Edmond, and Rae Yvonne Ransom Coleman; one son, Maynard H. Jackson III; and 10 grandchildren.