Ralph Emerson McGill told his son to pass on a journalism career. There wasn't a lot of money in it, he explained.
Ralph Emerson McGill Jr., an only child, did as he was told, going in a different direction from his famous father, who was winner of the 1959 Pulitzer Prize and editor and publisher of The Atlanta Constitution. Yet the younger McGill demonstrated ample writing ability on his own in turning out clever advertising copy.
"He could make you cry in five words or just make you laugh," said Mary Welch McGill, his wife of 21 years and an Atlanta writer and editor. "It was obvious the talent had been passed on, but with a twist. If you had to list the five best copywriters in town, Ralph's name would be one of them. He was a star and a player in the advertising world."
Mr. McGill died of a massive heart attack on Tuesday night while watching a telecast of the Atlanta Braves at his home in Virginia Highlands. He was 65. H.M. Services will be Tuesday at 2 p.m. at St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Peachtree Street. Patterson & Son, Spring Hill Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.
With Mr. McGill's passing, there was unfinished business left behind. He was in the process of writing a biography of Sam Massell, president of the Buckhead Coalition and former Atlanta mayor.
"I hope his wife Mary continues to do so," said Mr. Massell, who considered his biographer a great writer. "He didn't have a daily column, but he had daily sensitivity to those around him. I'm saddened by the loss of a friend."
On Wednesday, a Facebook offering set up by Debbie Inglis Maddox had this to say about the departed writer: "This page is in remembrance of Ralph McGill, a true Atlanta advertising legend."
Don Gill had was a friend and colleague of Mr. McGill's for 40 years. They worked together in a copywriter and art director tandem at four different firms, among them Braselton Advertising, which they co-owned.
"He's a genius but he flunked out of his father's school of journalism at Vanderbilt," said Mr. Gill of Tallahassee, Fla., said. "He has been a great writer in the advertising business. He is the smartest and most talented person I have ever been associated with. Yet I still don't think he came even close to his potential."
In 1985, Mr. McGill was director of copy services for the Atlanta firm Austin Kelley Advertising, Inc., when he was profiled in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He talked about being the son of a talented journalist and civil rights advocate.
"Writing was certainly part of growing up; typewriters and papers were strewn everywhere," he said at the time.
In the story, Mr. McGill also shared how his father had instructed him "not to go into journalism -- or die poor."
Mr. McGill worked for several agencies, sometimes more than once, among them McDonald & Little and Richmond-based Cargill, Wilson & Acree. In recent years, he wrote travel stories, Internet content, lifestyle articles, speeches, columns and other types of copy, according to his Web site.
"Everything that his father was as a newspaper writer, Ralph was as an advertising writer," said a friend, Dianna Mrs. Edwards of Cave Spring. "There are people who work hard at their talent and there are people who are born gifted. Ralph was one of [the latter]."
Mr. McGill also is survived by a son, Grady McGill of Atlanta.
Friends have indicated the family needs financial assistance in dealing with Mr. McGill's burial and other expenses.
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