Roy Otis Ashley, 73: Left lush landscapes across Atlanta, Southeast

Visitors to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta traipsed through flowering trees, water features and hardscapes designed by the landscape architecture firm Roy Otis Ashley built. That was just one of the signature projects for which he will be remembered, friends and former clients said.

During his 50-year career, more than 5,000 landscaping jobs Ashley worked on included Hartsfield-Jackson International airport, the White House Rose Garden, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge in Orlando and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel in Anaheim, as well as office, hotel and retail developments throughout metro Atlanta and the Southeast.

Friend and former client Bob Voyles, president of Atlanta commercial real estate firm Seven Oaks Co., said, “He basically put the frame around the picture that made so many developers look good. Roy was an American original, and he will be sorely missed.”

Ashley, 73 of Dunwoody and White Plains, Ga., died June 20 of respiratory arrest at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens. His funeral was June 24 in White Plains. A memorial service is scheduled at 11 a.m. June 25 at Alpharetta First United Methodist Church.

He was born Oct. 28, 1941, on a farm in Sandersville, Ga., where he developed love of nature and a fascination with agricultural equipment. The self-described tractor man had an extensive collection of farm equipment and more than 30 tractors at his White Plains farm.

After his high school graduation in 1959, his father sold part of the farm to pay for Ashley’s college education. He started at the Georgia Military College, but transferred and received a landscape architecture degree from the University of Georgia in 1964.

He credited mentoring by Atlanta landscape architect Harry Baldwin, his first employer, with giving him a great start in the business. In 1972, he founded Roy Ashley and Associates Inc., and was its president until 2008.

With Atlanta’s building boom gaining steam in the late 1970s, Ashley helped to increase landscape architecture’s importance to major developments, said Larry Gellerstedt, CEO of Cousins Properties Inc. of Atlanta. “That period of time was the beginning of landscape architecture being taken more seriously as a key component of building design,” Gellerstedt said. “Roy and his firm was on the leading edge of making that happen. He was very creative and great to work with.”

Ashley used plants, water features, rocks and other hardscape elements to create lush environments whether in the city or amid the suburban sprawl.

For the Olympics, he brought in 125 tractor-trailer loads of container-grown trees, many of which were used to create downtown streetscapes with crape myrtles in bloom. Other Ashley projects include the Ravinia in Dunwoody, the IBM regional headquarters, AT&T headquarters, Chick-fil-A headquarters, the World of Coca-Cola, Circle 75, and Bass Pro Shops.

“Roy … had the unique ability to make everyone feel like his best friend,” said Ray Moses, president of Genoa Construction Co. of Alpharetta, who noted, “I can’t drive anywhere in the city where I don’t see a tree he planted or a rock wall or water feature he designed.”

Ashley was a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the organization’s highest honor, and received more than 70 professional awards during his career. He also served on the board for Park Pride and Keep Georgia Beautiful.

During down time, he enjoyed fishing and hunting with friends. He and his wife split their time between their Dunwoody home and White Plains.

In 2009, Ashley built the 8,000-square-foot Roy’s Museum on his White Plains farm. He hoped the museum, which is filled with copies of his landscape design concepts, will inspire schoolchildren to consider a career in landscape architecture, said his son Ken Ashley of Dunwoody.

“Dad was raised on the land, by the land and for the land. It was his passion his entire life,” Ken said. “I think his early experiences created his passion for his career – the idea that all people should interact with nature and appreciate what God has given us.”

In addition to his son Ken, Ashley is survived by his wife Toine Ashley of Dunwoody; sons Michael Troy Ashley of Olathe, Kan., and Walker Scott Ashley of DeKalb, Ill.; and seven grandchildren.