Once, at her home in France, Anne Cox Chambers received a visiting dignitary somewhat lacking in social graces. The fellow whinged on at length about the press while she simply listened. When his fulminating ceased, she finally replied:
“Sir, I am the press.”
Firm yet polite, steely yet droll, those bon mots encapsulated Chambers’ understated strength.
“She was a gentle warrior,” said her son, James C. Chambers, during her celebration of life service on Thursday.
Chambers died one week ago at age 100 with family members at her side. On Thursday afternoon, mourners filled the historic sanctuary at All Saints’ Episcopal Church to remember a woman dedicated to the arts, education and other causes, who campaigned with zeal for politicians she believed in, who cherished her gardens, her dogs and above all, her family.
She served as ambassador to Belgium and was a director of the Coca-Cola Co. She became Atlanta’s first female bank director when she joined the board of Fulton National Bank, later Bank South, and was the first woman to serve as a director of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, now the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
To her family, though, she was Honey. Her first grandchild gave her the nickname and it took on with the rest.
“She was a visionary who helped visionaries,” James C. Chambers said. “I love you forever and always, Mom. You are my hero. Thank you, Honey. We celebrate you, Anne Cox Chambers.”
Chambers and her sister, Barbara Cox, who died in May 2007, had been owners of Cox Enterprises, whose metro area holdings include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Chambers served on the Cox board of directors and retained the title of chairman of Atlanta Newspapers.
“She loved our family company,” said Chambers’ grandson, Alex Taylor, the current president and CEO of Cox Enterprises. “In a world of so much greed and power and abuse and cynicism, she was a ray of light. She always supported doing the right things for employees because, as she said frequently, ‘That’s what Daddy would have wanted.’”
Chambers’ father, James M. Cox Sr., launched the company that was to become Cox Enterprises with his 1898 purchase of the Dayton Evening News Publishing Co., now the Dayton Daily News.
“At her sister’s funeral, she wrote a very short and poignant note that said, ‘To my little sister, au revoir, until we meet again,’” Taylor recalled. “And so it is now, she returns to the soil and to her family and to her dogs. After 100 years of standing tall and beautifying absolutely everything around her, she is now gone with the wind.”
Former President Jimmy Carter, who appointed Chambers to her post in Belgium, wrote the greeting for the memorial service program.
“She has been a remarkable businesswoman, philanthropist and a dear personal friend,” it read.
Former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, who spoke during Thursday’s service, said he called on the family soon after hearing of Chambers’ passing.
“I was offered a cup of tea, and it was the most fragrant, beautiful aroma. One of the great-grandchildren said, ‘This is the honey that goes with it,’” he said. “I sensed a calm and a spirit that reminded me that Mrs. Chambers has gone nowhere. We make a big mistake, I think, by making the walls between life and death so permanent.”
During his remarks, Young saluted Chambers’ support of social equality and reflected on memories of his late grandmother, his time with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and a recently deceased relative as he pondered a person’s ephemeral presence on earth, yet their lasting legacy.
“The spirit of love, the dreams, the hopes, the joys. The honey. The rich but delicate aroma will always be in our lives,” he said. “Thank you, Anne Cox Chambers.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.