Brad Currey, guided Atlanta business and arts institutions, dies at 91

Bradley Currey Jr., as Chair of the Board at Emory University in 1997. Currey was successful in business and helped make institutions in the city successful through his donations and guidance.  (AJC Staff Photo/Renee Hannans)
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Bradley Currey Jr., as Chair of the Board at Emory University in 1997. Currey was successful in business and helped make institutions in the city successful through his donations and guidance. (AJC Staff Photo/Renee Hannans)

Credit: AJC

With the quietness that defined him, Bradley “Brad” Norton Currey, Jr. poured millions into elevating Atlanta to world-class status, while shunning recognition for himself.

“There are generations of people who’ll be impacted by Brad Currey but never know his name,” said Ben. F. Johnson III, an Atlanta community leader who called him a mentor.

With successful careers in both the banking and paper industries, his generous donations were anonymous, and often in honor of others. His self-effacing style, leadership skills, and diplomacy were also powerful resources. He helped attract international airlines to Atlanta. He was integral in Emory University’s growth from regional to global research entity. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO) credits him with its rise from regional to international renown, and with single-handedly salvaging the career of the late conductor Robert Shaw. Brad Currey helped save St. Luke’s Episcopal Church when membership was dying, using its pivotal downtown location to expand programs for the needy. After retirement at age 70, he was appointed to roles by governors of three states to help secure water supplies for future generations.

“Brad elevated the stature and reach of institutions across Atlanta. He had an unparalleled vision of the breadth of what a great city is and knew we had to move forward on all fronts. He took us as we were, with our strengths, and made us better,” said James T. Laney, former president of Emory University and former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.

Currey died at his residence in Atlanta on January 6. He was 91. He donated his body to Emory University School of Medicine. Services will be held at 11 a.m. on February 19 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta.

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1930 during the Great Depression, Currey grew up in a home where life was arranged around radio programs of orchestral music and opera.

He would later say that is when he fell in love with symphonies, and when his parents’ example of community service inspired his own. One of seven children, he shared a bedroom with three brothers before his family moved to Lookout Mountain when he was 10. By age 11, he was cutting grass for income, managing his mother’s victory garden, and getting to know the girl next door who would later become his wife.

After graduating from Baylor School in 1947 as an academic standout, he attended Princeton University on scholarship. He worked in the dining hall, overseeing the bus boy staff. “He told me it was best managerial training of his life,” said brother Robert Currey.

He graduated in 1951 and enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he attended Officer Candidate School. He left military service two years later, married his childhood neighbor Sally McClellan, moved to Atlanta, and took a job as teller trainee at Trust Company of Georgia. Over the next 23 years, he held several positions at the bank, rising to chief financial officer and director of the bank holding company. He then joined Rock-Tenn Company (now WestRock), where annual sales grew from $56 million when he arrived in 1976 to $1.3 billion when he retired as CEO in 2000.

Never comfortable with idle time, Currey immediately went to work on water supply and conservation issues. In 2015, at age 85, he saw completion of the Sustainable Water Management Plan with the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Stakeholders. He called the plan his most important work.

“Brad failed retirement. He just kept going,” said friend Jane Long.

Into his late 80s, he drove the restored Packard bought new in 1931 by his great uncle. Otherwise, he did not care for luxuries. His pleasures were simple: growing vegetables in his garden, listening to classical music, hiking in nature, swimming in mountain lakes, and reading to his grandchildren. Devoted to his wife until her death in 2018, he ate dinner by her bedside every night for the last three years of her life.

When the ASO asked to honor Brad Currey at a gala, he said no thanks.

“It’s unusual to find someone with that depth of influence who doesn’t want recognition,” said ASO Executive Director Jennifer Barlament. “He was determined to stay away from the limelight and give credit to others. For him, the reward was 100 percent to see the institution, the person, and the community thrive.”

Survivors include sons Bradly N. Currey III of University City, Missouri, and Russell M. Currey of Atlanta; daughters Anne Currey Bucey of Atlanta, and Louise Currey Wilson of Princeton, New Jersey; brothers Frederick Currey of Dallas, Texas, Hal Currey of Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, and Robert Currey of Atlanta; and 10 grandchildren.

Memorials may be made to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Endowment Fund “or whatever charitable enterprise he roped you into,” said son Russell Currey.