Remembering A Local Legend: The Inimitable Anne Cox Chambers

A bright light went out in Atlanta on January 31, 2020. Anne Cox Chambers, renowned philanthropist, media proprietor, and diplomat passed away at her Buckhead home at the age of 100. Born to James M. Cox, a newspaper publisher and politician, and his second wife Margaretta Parker Blair in Dayton, Ohio, she attended Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut and later graduated from the now closed Finch College in New York. Anne eventually found her way to Atlanta in 1939 when she attended the premiere of Gone with the Wind alongside her sister Barbara, fell in love with the city, and never left. 

Photo of a drawing of Anne Cox Chambers, signed A. Vidal Quadras 68, photographed in Atlanta, Ga. on, May 5, 1974. Photo Credit: Joe McTyre / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

James M. Cox, Anne’s father, was a newspaper publisher, the 46th and 48th Governor of Ohio, and the 1920 Democratic Presidential nominee. After stepping down from public service, James pursued his interests in the media by building a large conglomerate called Cox Enterprises. In 1923 he purchased the Miami Daily News and Canton Daily News, adding the Atlanta Georgian and Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1939 just before the premiere of Gone with the Wind. The deal included the Atlanta radio station WSB which he added to his previous acquisitions of the stations WHIO in Dayton and WIOD in Miami. 

In 1974, upon the death of their brother James M. Cox, known as Jim Jr., Anne and her sister Barbara gained a majority interest in the family company. Anne became the chairwoman of Atlanta Newspapers, while Barbara became chairwoman of Dayton Newspapers. Anne remained a crucial advisor as the family business was later run by her nephew, James Cox Kennedy, who took on the role of chairman and chief executive officer in the late 80s. 

Anne’s position within Cox Enterprises and her growing wealth made her a powerful force in the local community. A lifelong Democrat, she campaigned passionately for Jimmy Carter during his presidential run who referred to her as a “steel magnolia.” Once elected to the presidency, Carter appointed Anne as ambassador to Belgium during his administration. She was known for her strength, tenacity, and Southern charm which made this service a natural fit. Carter saw Brussels as “the focal point and gathering place for multinational relationships in Europe.” During her time there she entertained, fundraised, and communicated the worries of those in Brussels about the declining value of the American dollar.

“The confidence the President has shown by appointing me to this very important ambassadorial post is the greatest honor and privilege of my life,” she told a reporter for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She later was awarded the French Legion of Honor title for her service.

Otto Kleiman and Anne Cox Chambers present Georgia Governor George Busbee with a Bio-Energy ’80, World Congress and Exposition poster, in Busbee’s office in Atlanta, Ga. on Nov. 27, 1980. Photo Credit: George A. Clark / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In addition to becoming an ambassador and playing a key role in Cox Enterprises, Anne also was a director of many organizations including the Fulton National Bank, the Atlanta Humane Society, the Atlanta Music Festival Association, Atlanta Speech School, Atlanta Landmarks, and the Institutional Development Corp. She was a trustee of the Atlanta Historical Society, sponsor of Ducks Unlimited, a member of the executive committee of Central Atlanta Progress, and sat on the board of sponsors for the Atlanta Symphony. She served as the first president, founder, and trustee of the Forward Arts Foundation, member of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, a founding trustee for the Southern Center for International Studies, and a member of Georgia’s Commission for the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals. She was named director of the board of The Coca-Cola company during the 1980s, and earned recognition as the first woman in Atlanta to be director of a bank as well as the first woman to be appointed to the city’s chamber of commerce. 

Anne Cox Chambers in October 1976. Photo Credit: Charles D. Jackson / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Her involvement with the local community went beyond holding esteemed positions, as she was also an active member of the Atlanta Junior League, Peachtree Garden Club, and the Garden Club of America. Known for her love of the outdoors, many articles featured photographs of Anne posed contemplatively in the lush gardens of her West Paces Ferry home. 

Carrying herself with a quiet sophistication, Anne was never boastful about her wealth or status, often referring to herself as a “peasant” and eagerly engaging in fundraising on a face-to-face basis. Though she was modest and sensitive to others needs, she was also quite forceful and strong-willed when dealing with matters of principle. This combination of sweetness and fortitude made her a force to be reckoned with and allowed her to exert a far-reaching impact on the organizations that she held dear. Estimated to be worth a whopping $17 billion in January of 2016 according to Forbes Magazine, Anne used her wealth to contribute heavily to philanthropic causes. She later transferred her wealth to her three children, James Chambers, Katharine Rayner and Margaretta Taylor, minting three new billionaires in 2015.

Anne Cox Chambers photographed with her son, James Cox Chambers, for the cover of Southern Seasons in 2015. Photo credit: Nancy Jo McDaniel

A lifelong lover of the arts, Anne amassed a number of fine works from some of the world’s most prestigious artists. Her involvement with local arts organizations such as the Forward Arts Foundation fundraising group she helped to establish in 1965 led to her position as honorary chair of the fundraising effort to construct the museum’s Richard Meier designed complex, and she later leveraged her international connections to open an exhibition titled the “Louvre Atlanta” in collaboration with the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Thanks to these contributions and more, the museum officially named one of the wings of its expanded facility after Chambers in recognition of her years of support.

Anne Cox Chambers truly lived an extraordinary life. Throughout her career she earned many awards, a reputation for kindness and philanthropy, and held prestigious titles at some of the city’s biggest and most noteworthy organizations. Anne passed away at the age of 100 in January of 2020 in her Buckhead home leaving behind a legacy that will continue on for generations to come. We remain grateful for her service and her love for our community, may her incredible memory never be forgotten.