Jo Atchison, 95, loyally supported Georgia Tech since 1930s

Sisters Jo Atchison (left) and Alae Risse Leitch attended Georgia Tech football games together in nine different decades. They posed for this photograph prior to the Tech-Vanderbilt game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in 2016, when Leitch was 102 and Atchison was 89. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

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Sisters Jo Atchison (left) and Alae Risse Leitch attended Georgia Tech football games together in nine different decades. They posed for this photograph prior to the Tech-Vanderbilt game at Bobby Dodd Stadium in 2016, when Leitch was 102 and Atchison was 89. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Even at the age of 94, Jo Atchison held season tickets for Georgia Tech football games last season and attended all but one game. She bought season tickets for men’s basketball, also, but her family talked her out of going to games at McCamish Pavilion because of the heightened health risk.

“She’d already bought season tickets (for football) for next season,” Atchison’s son Lee Atchison said.

Atchison, whose allegiance to the Jackets crossed 10 decades, was faithful to the end to the white and gold. The longtime schoolteacher from Decatur died April 24 at the age of 95.

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Lee remembered her “as the ultimate Southern lady, always dressed to the nines, always greeted you with a smile and treated you with respect. And, of course, her loyalty to her family and to her beloved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. She would make sure she was watching Georgia Tech if they played tiddlywinks.”

Her passing brought to an end the longstanding devotion she and her sister Alae Risse Leitch had offered to Tech’s football teams. When the Jackets take the field for next season, they’ll have to play on without the support of the two sisters for the first time in more than a century.

Leitch, who died in 2018 at the age of 104, began attending games at Grant Field as a girl to cheer her uncle David “Red” Barron, an All-American halfback who played for Tech from 1918-22. Florence Josephine Barron was born April 9, 1927, and joined the treks to Atlanta, by train from their home in Toccoa, a few years later. (The two sisters had a brother, Virgil Claude Barron, and a sister, Ailene Barron Penick, between them, both of whom are deceased.)

“She would make sure she was watching Georgia Tech if they played tiddlywinks."

- Lee Atchison, whose mother, Jo Atchison, was a longtime Tech supporter

A lifetime was born when Atchison first started attending games in the early 1930s.

At that time, William Alexander was the coach. Surely, men who had played in Tech’s first game in 1892 were still alive. Yet to come to Tech at that point – the team’s membership in the SEC (1933-63), the tenure of Bobby Dodd (1945-66) and the introduction of the Ramblin’ Wreck (1961).

Their support of the Jackets continued into adulthood as they attended games in the company of their husbands and then together after surviving them.

Atchison graduated from Agnes Scott College and then earned two more degrees from Emory. She taught in Atlanta Public Schools for 43 years. She married Ben Hart Atchison in 1959, and they remained wedded until his death in 2011. They raised two sons, Lee and Scott, and were active members of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church.

“Kindness and loyalty,” said Lee Atchison, asked his strongest impressions of his mother. “Not only to my dad; they were married for 52 years, but obviously to Georgia Tech. So many lean years in the ‘70s and ‘80s and on, but she didn’t miss a beat.”

The Jackets were never too far from her mind. When she taught in a trailer at Sutton Middle School, Lee said, she checked out televisions, purportedly to screen an educational video, but then turned on the ACC basketball tournament for her class.

In recent years, Atchison and her sister watched games from the suite of former coach Paul Johnson in the company of his wife, Susan, fellow members of Second-Ponce de Leon. After Johnson’s retirement at the end of the 2018 season, Atchison became a guest of athletic director Todd Stansbury and his wife Karen in their suite, though she continued to purchase season tickets to support the team.

“What an incredible lady,” Stansbury said Wednesday.

For a game last season, Stansbury brought an additional guest to the suite – Janet Lake Livingston, the widow of former Jackets player and coach Pepper Rodgers. She was in town for a memorial for Rodgers, who died in 2020 at the age of 88. When Stansbury introduced them, Livingston asked if Atchison had come to Tech games when Rodgers was coaching in the ‘70s.

“And she goes, ‘Actually, I came to games when Pepper was a player here (in the ‘50s),’” Stansbury said.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Second-Ponce de Leon.

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