Mary Ann Hearn, 74, was the face of Atlanta for visitors, conventioneers

Mary Ann Hearn of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, greeted the city's conventioneers and visitors for 30 years.

Credit: Contributed

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Mary Ann Hearn of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, greeted the city's conventioneers and visitors for 30 years.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Mary Ann Hearn and Chris Colbert were relaxing on a break from part-time jobs at a trade show at the Georgia World Congress Center in the early 1980s.

“I was reading a book and she just kept talking,” Colbert said. “It was clear I was not going to get any more reading done so I closed my book and said, ‘Let’s have a conversation.’”

That led to friendship and, a year later, to Colbert offering Hearn a job at the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau after he got a management job there.

Hearn worked in the visitor’s kiosk and rolled out a verbal welcome mat for more than thirty years, connecting thousands of tourists and conventioneers with the city she loved.

“She was quite simply the face of Atlanta to visitors,” said Dale Gustafson, a hotel sales and marketing director and former ACVB co-worker.

Mary Ann Hearn, 74, died Feb. 24 following a series of medical problems. She is survived by two nephews and a niece. A memorial service is planned.

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Mary Ann Hearn

Hearn’s thousand-gigawatt smile, somewhat husky sweet-tea drawl and warm, gracious mien was lauded as the essence of Southern hospitality, instantly making out-of-towners feeling welcome. A voracious reader, she soaked up information on Atlanta like a sponge; restaurants, nightlife, attractions, neighborhoods, music art and culture.

“Mary Ann was our Google, before Google, because of her knowledge of the city,” said Jo Ann Haden-Miller, an ACVB director of marketing and longtime friend.

Hearn would sketch out itineraries and recommendations for visitors on a one-sheet tear-off map and load them down with tourism literature, while fielding questions ranging from “Where can I get a sandwich?” to “Where’s Tara?” — the fictional plantation from the movie Gone with the Wind.

Sorry, she’d say. No Tara plantation around here. But, Miller said, as faces fell Hearn would quickly follow up with directions to the Margaret Mitchell Museum and other GWTW points of interest.

“You felt like you were the one single special person in her life when she talked to you,” said Colbert.

Ironically, he said, hers was a job she had to be talked into.

“She was not that interested in something that was 9 to 5” he remembered. “She was an actress and actresses are not 9 to 5 people. But she came around.”

Childhood friend James Marshall said Hearn’s love for the performing arts bloomed early in their hometown of Eatonton, from grade-school skits and high-school performances, and grew to a theater degree from the University of Georgia. She moved to Atlanta, becoming a founding member of the Alliance Theater Company and appeared in productions from “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail,” to “Streetcar Named Desire.”

“She was a wonderful actress,” said Carolyn Mayo, a retired Atlanta thespian who interned at the Alliance in 1970.

She recalled one production in which Hearn played Lady Liberty and delivered a powerful monologue on war for profit-a not uncommon theme as the Vietnam war raged. The riveting performance ranged from charming and delightful to dark and threatening, said Mayo, and was so effective that she borrowed chunks of it for her own auditions.

“She had the ability to exude so much energy and presence that it drew you in immediately,” she said.

Colbert said her ACVB job brought down the curtain on her acting — in a sense. She was no longer in front of the footlights, but she brought a theatrical flair to her work, fulfilling with aplomb her desire to be in front of an appreciative audience.

Gustafson recalls the day that Hearn moved the visitors kiosk from Underground Atlanta to Centennial Olympic Park. He brought her lunch just as a girls volleyball team from a Scandinavian country walked in looking for someplace to eat

“She aksed, ‘Where y’all from?’ with that Southern drawl.”

Working through a substantial language barrier, she directed them to a nearby deli.

“You just caught that sparkle in her eye and that special caring” he recalled. “She would just drop everything when a new group came in the door.”

Her excellence earned her multiple plaudits, including the 2018 Turner Downtown Community Leadership Award, bestowed by the business booster group Central Atlanta Progress.

Its president A.J. Robinson said the award was indicative of her contributions in marketing Atlanta’s core.

Robinson spoke for the hundreds who left tributes on her Facebook page in saying simply, “We are definitely going to miss her.”

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