Former Cobb commission chairman Tim Lee dies after cancer diagnosis

Leader negotiated deal that brought SunTrust Park, Atlanta Braves to Cobb County

Former Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee, who negotiated the public-financing deal for SunTrust Park that brought the Atlanta Braves to Cobb, died Sunday. He was 62.

Lee was surrounded by his family when he passed away at Northeast Georgia Medical Center about 1:30 p.m., according to family spokeswoman Kelly Brownlow. He had been battling cancer since last year.

Condolences quickly began pouring in from local and state leaders. He was remembered by friends and loved ones as a kind family man who had a strong devotion to the people of Cobb County.

“As a family, we are devastated,” his son Christian Lee said in a statement. “However, we are humbled and comforted by the fact that my dad, also a beloved husband, brother, grandfather, and friend, had such a positive impact on others. Few leave behind a legacy like my father does because it is hard-earned and requires an unwavering dedication to the welfare and betterment of others.”

The news of Lee’s death was “a great shock to all of us,” said Ray Buday, Lee’s friend and the former executive director of the Marietta Housing Authority.

“He was a man of faith, fellowship, family,” Buday said. “It was very easy for him to simply do what’s best for his constituents. He was driven by that.”

Lee took over as county chairman in 2010 and remained in the position until he was voted out in 2016. While he orchestrated the deal to bring the Braves to Cobb, he was not in office there when the team began playing at SunTrust Park.

Voters elected Mike Boyce as chairman, in what was largely seen as a litmus test for support of the deal to bring the Braves to Cobb, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time. Some voters said they objected to the way the deal was negotiated in secret and involved some $400 million in public money to build and maintain the new stadium without a public referendum.

But Buday said “there’s a lot of happy people in Cobb County” thanks to SunTrust Park and The Battery, the mixed-use development adjacent to the stadium.

The Braves said in a statement that the organization is appreciative of Lee’s leadership, “specifically the bold move of helping bring the Braves to Cobb County. The difficult decisions he made have paid off with the resurgence of growth throughout the county which have greatly benefited its residents and schools.”

Boyce told the AJC that the County Commission and staff send their condolences to Lee’s family. He said Lee was a “remarkable public leader.”

The county will fly flags at half-mast at all of its facilities until Lee is laid to rest, Boyce said. Funeral plans have not been announced.

In 2017, following his electoral defeat in Cobb, Lee took a job as the director of economic development in Habersham County.

“Tim guided Cobb County through some difficult economic times,” Commissioner Bob Ott, who for years served alongside Lee, said in a statement. “His love for our county was seen from his early days as a commissioner and was even more evident when he became a chairman.”

Lee underwent surgery for esophageal cancer earlier this year, Brownlow said. Afterward, however, it was found to have spread to his lymph system and he was being monitored.

“Monday, he said he had six months to live,” said Sam Matthews, Lee’s former pastor from Marietta First United Methodist Church. “Instead, he had six days.”

Recently, Lee told Channel 11 WXIA that he was fighting the disease but “it could be something that takes me real quick,” adding: “It’s in God’s hands.”

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson was among those who sent condolences to Lee’s family Sunday.

“Cobb County owes a lot to Tim Lee. He was a great leader whose service to Cobb culminated in not only bringing the world-class Atlanta Braves stadium to town, but also rejuvenating a large portion of the county in doing so. Tim himself was a world-class guy. He was willing to risk for the greater good, and he brought people together to do the right thing,” Isakson said in a statement.

Matthews called Lee’s passing a “great loss” and said the former commission chairman faced death “bravely and without apologies.”

“And that’s a great way to die, I think,” he told the AJC.

There will be two memorials — one in Habersham County and one in Marietta — to honor Lee, the family said.