Metro spotlight: Remembering Susan Tucker, the grandest of dames

Susan Tucker and her beloved feline companion Diego. Tucker, a successful businesswoman, had leading roles in Atlanta arts, culture and philanthropy for decades.
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Susan Tucker and her beloved feline companion Diego. Tucker, a successful businesswoman, had leading roles in Atlanta arts, culture and philanthropy for decades.

If you have enjoyed performances at the Alliance Theatre or Atlanta Opera, visited the High Museum of Art or Atlanta History Center, or received a meal from Open Hand, services from the Arthritis Foundation or a scholarship from UNCF, Susan Tucker played a discreet and gracious role in your experience.

Thanks to her business and volunteer efforts over the years, a vast array of Atlanta’s cultural, educational and philanthropic institutions bear her fingerprints.

Not that Tucker would ever leave actual fingerprints.

“She always knew everything proper to do,” said Karen Spiegel, who with Tucker worked to benefit organizations such as the Atlanta Humane Society and the Shepherd Center.

Tucker, 75, died April 8 after a long period of declining health. The founder of Tucker & Associates, Inc., Public Relations and Advertising, she served on boards including the Forward Arts Foundation, the Georgia Committee of National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Michael C. Carlos Museum. Loved ones are planning a private graveside service.

“I don’t know of anyone who was as well loved or admired,” said Spiegel, who marveled at the finesse with which Tucker helped raise funds. “I chaired a number of balls years ago. I wouldn’t accept doing it unless they would hire her. She would just tell them they needed to invest in the Swan House Ball or Legendary (the Shepherd fundraiser) or whatever. Susan was always so nice they wanted to do what she wanted.”

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Susan Tucker
Susan Tucker, left, and Karen Spiegel at the Forward Arts Foundation fundraiser. Photos: Kim Link
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Susan Tucker, left, and Karen Spiegel at the Forward Arts Foundation fundraiser. Photos: Kim Link

Credit: Kim Link

Credit: Kim Link

Tucker was born in Pensacola, Florida, but spent most of her life in Atlanta. She graduated from The Westminster Schools, earned a degree in French from Sweet Briar College and studied for a year at École du Louvre in Paris. The grandest of dames, she would glide into a ballroom like a clipper ship, always turned out impeccably, usually in Chanel.

“Susan looked on point, like she stepped out of a magazine, every time I saw her. Every hair in place,” said philanthropist and community leader Lovette Russell.

Tucker’s elegance set her apart even as a child. She’d bring a dainty sandwich, crusts cut off, sliced into quarters and exquisitely wrapped, for lunch, her friend Kendrick Gearon recalled.

“I have known Sue since the fourth grade at Westminster,” her friend Jane Black said. “My memory is her perfect pageboy, every day.”

Tucker was as classic as her attire. She never failed to send a thank you note or a sympathy card. She was generous in making introductions. She wouldn’t upgrade from the 10-inch television her father gave her in 1992. The gift meant more than the technology.

“She wouldn’t use a microwave,” mused her friend Jane Black.

“I loved how caring she was,” Russell said. “She always asked about my mother. She remembered my children’s names. My mother’s first name is Maudette. People don’t remember that. From the first time she met her she’d say, ‘How is Maudette?’”

Russell will be honored this October at the 35th Swan House Ball. The annual event, like so many others during the pandemic, was put on hold last year. Russell lamented that Tucker, a stalwart presence at the premiere affair, won’t be there this fall.

Swan House Ball honoree Lovette Russell (in red) with Swan House Ball co-chairs Jack Sawyer and Vicki Palmer (not pictured: Roz Brewer) and Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale. Photo credit: Kimberly Evans
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Swan House Ball honoree Lovette Russell (in red) with Swan House Ball co-chairs Jack Sawyer and Vicki Palmer (not pictured: Roz Brewer) and Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale. Photo credit: Kimberly Evans

Credit: Kimberly Evans

Credit: Kimberly Evans

Tucker’s inclination for networking blossomed early. Her father, Charles J. Tucker Jr., worked for Southern Bell, so the family had free long-distance dialing. It was a luxury Tucker was happy to share, inviting her friends to call their beaus who were away at school.

Tucker made her Phoenix Society debut at the Capital City County Club in 1964 and was in a serious relationship at one time, but her young man lived hours away. Marrying would have meant moving. Devoted to her mother, Betty Anne McKenzie Tucker, she opted to stay in Atlanta, where she launched her business in 1974.

Susan Tucker and her mother, Betty Anne McKenzie Tucker
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Susan Tucker and her mother, Betty Anne McKenzie Tucker

Credit: Photo provided to the AJC

Credit: Photo provided to the AJC

Gearon, Tucker’s former Westminster schoolmate, was a colleague for about a year.

“When I started working for her in 1984, the office was just a dining room table,” she said. “When I talked to her in the last few years she was so proud of the diversity of clients she had.”

In recent years, Tucker’s client list reflected Atlanta’s growing entertainment scene.

“One time at the Swan House Ball I remember standing with her and meeting a rapper she was representing,” Black recalled. “That was pretty cool.”

During the Christmas season of 2010, an animated Tucker worked tirelessly to publicize the Winter Wonderland gala, hosted by entertainment mogul Devyne Stephens in support of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta-Hughes Spalding Hospital. Kenny “Baby Face” Edmonds entertained, and celebrity guests included Akon, Keri Hilson, Kelly Rowland, Jermaine Dupri and Julius Erving.

“Needless to say, this is MORE THAN WONDERFUL,” Tucker, not one to use all caps lightly, exulted in an email at the time.

Tucker once had office space on Wieuca Road but more recently worked out of her home, a condo at the Four Seasons. She and her mother moved there after her father’s death, the family having lived previously in north Atlanta and Avondale Estates.

“They were right there at the symphony and the museum,” Black said, referring to the nearby Woodruff Arts Center. The home was appointed tastefully without being stuffy, and guests were often greeted by both Tucker and her beloved rescue cat, Diego, something of a fluffy co-host at times.

“I remember being at a luncheon at Susan’s apartment and Diego jumping up and wandering the length of the table,” recalled Mimi Vickers, a friend from both Westminster and Sweet Briar. Diego’s ashes were sprinkled near her chosen resting place at Atlanta’s Arlington Cemetery, where her parents are buried.

As Tucker became more frail, friends suggested other living arrangements, but she stayed put. The circle of friends she received toward the end became smaller, and she would at times send her longtime, trusted colleague Alison Agnew to the lobby when people would send gifts.

“She would not leave her apartment because she had so many memories there,” said Gearon, who shared one of her own. Years ago, she and Tucker planned to join some former Westminster classmates on a getaway to Florida. Seeking as always to be correct, Tucker asked what the dress code would be.

“Someone said, ‘Just bring khakis,’” Gearon recalled. “She called me up and said, ‘What are khakis?’”

Susan Tucker applauded at a luncheon benefiting the Forward Arts Foundation. Photo by Kim Link
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Susan Tucker applauded at a luncheon benefiting the Forward Arts Foundation. Photo by Kim Link

Credit: Kim Link

Credit: Kim Link