We Knew Them When
By Paige Parvin 96G
Robert W. Woodruff 1912C
He’s the prototypical Emory alumnus who didn’t actually graduate: the legendary Robert W. Woodruff 1912C, who left Emory after one semester. He went on to join the family business—The Coca-Cola Company—and eventually became president, making the soft drink a household name. Despite his brief tenure as a student, the university must have made a favorable impression, because it was Woodruff and his brother George who initiated the famous 1979 gift of $105 million, the largest single donation to an educational institution ever made at that time. During his lifetime, Woodruff directed more than $230 million in gifts to Emory, including the gift that established what is now the Winship Cancer Institute. Woodruff’s case helped inspire Emory’s policy to consider any student who completes two semesters one of its alumni. Although that practice is consistent with most colleges and universities, Woodruff’s unique story is told each year at the Sophomore Pinning Ceremony. Last August, Emory Alumni Board President Isabel Garcia 99L welcomed the sophomore class into the ranks: “Now, in honor of Robert Woodruff, by entering your sophomore year, you all are considered official Emory alumni.”
Bobby Jones 29L
Fabled for winning golf’s Grand Slam in 1930, Atlanta native Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones 29L remains the most successful amateur golfer in history, despite the fact that he officially put away his clubs before he was thirty. Jones earned an engineering degree from Georgia Tech in 1922 and an AB in English from Harvard, and helped design his “ideal golf course,” the Augusta National. But he made his real living as a lawyer, and for that Emory may take some small measure of credit: Jones attended law school here for three semesters before passing the Georgia bar exam and joining his father’s law firm. He was the inspiration for the Bobby Jones Scholarship program, which fosters student exchange between Emory and his beloved University of St Andrews, Scotland.
Sam Massell 48C
Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell 48C started college at the University of Georgia, but the school’s social scene proved too distracting for serious study. He transferred to Emory in 1944 and buckled down for a year—“just going to school, going home, studying, going to school, going home, studying,” he joked in an interview on Georgia Public Broadcasting in 2007—before joining the US Air Force. He eventually completed a business degree at Georgia State University and a law degree at the former Atlanta Law School. Massell built a successful career in real estate and tourism, and also served his hometown for twenty-two years in elected office, including eight as president of the Board of Aldermen (city council) and four as Atlanta mayor from 1970 to 1974. As the youngest and the first Jewish mayor of Atlanta, Massell is credited with establishing MARTA and cultivating opportunities for minorities in city government. In 1988, he founded the Buckhead Coalition, a private business organization, which he continues to lead.
Diana Nyad 71C
It seems Diana Nyad 71C has a daredevil streak that can be traced all the way back to, well, Emory. As a sophomore, the star swimmer tried to parachute out the fourth-floor window of her dorm, a stunt that led to her dismissal from school. In an interview with Elle magazine last May—before her fourth unsuccessful attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida—Nyad explained: “It was going to be a feat. Something to do. I just went down to the local army and navy store to buy a parachute; I didn’t know anything. And then the parachute didn’t open. . . .” Nyad hit the reset button on college, graduating from Lake Forest in 1973. She went on to a puzzle-piece career as a journalist and writer, and later, a sports-business commentator. A lesbian who has spoken about being sexually abused as a teenager, Nyad is a frequent motivational speaker and was invited to give a TEDMED talk last year. But she’s best known as a distance swimmer who has set numerous records, most notably for the fastest swim around Manhattan (seven hours, 57 minutes) in 1975 and for the longest-ever nonstop swim without a wetsuit in 1979. “What interests me about marathon swimming is that it tests the human spirit,” she wrote in her 1978 book Other Shores. “It is a sport of extremes.”
Carl Hiaasen 74C
A native of Plantation, Florida, writer Carl Hiaasen 74C came to Emory after high school in 1970. He studied English literature here for two years and was described by professors as a good student. He also began to develop his trademark irreverent style as a frequent contributor of satirical humor columns to the Emory Wheel. It seems his penchant for mischief didn’t end there; according to a 2002 article in the Wheel, Hiaasen joined Ira Luft 74C as the only two male contestants in the 1972 “Miss Emory” contest in an effort to discredit the pageant—which Luft, in fact, won. In a 2001 interview with the University of Florida (UF) for its libraries’ oral history collection, Hiaasen described why he transferred to UF in fall 1973: “I knew I wanted to go into newspapers at the time, and Emory didn’t have a journalism program.” Indeed, Hiaasen went on to a long career with the Miami Herald, where he remains a columnist, and has written more than fifteen novels, including the Newbery Honor Award–winning children’s book Hoot. “I greatly enjoyed my time at Emory, especially my bachelor party in the basement of the Sigma Nu house,” he said in a recent email message to Emory Magazine. “Seriously, it’s a terrific school, and I wouldn’t have left except for a journalism degree.”
Scooter Braun 04C
At Emory, Scott “Scooter” Braun 04C launched a career by throwing parties. Not frat parties, mind you, or dorm-basement keggers—real parties, epic parties, with lights and smoke and the edgiest music, the kind of parties where people line up outside behind velvet rope to get in. And by “people,” we mean record-label insiders, sports stars, rap artists like Usher and Ludacris—that’s the kind of crowd Braun was bringing in when he was twenty years old. Small wonder he quit Emory to go into the entertainment management business (a move that reportedly made his parents, a pair of dentists from Greenwich, Connecticut, uneasy). A few years later, Braun had started his own Atlanta company, SB Projects, when he happened upon a twelve-year-old on YouTube whose homemade music video made him stop and look again. “My gut went crazy,” Braun told Greenwich Magazine in 2010. “He had that tone in his voice, he could play multiple instruments, he could dance. I basically tracked him and his mother down in the next forty-eight hours and flew them down to Atlanta on my own dime. It was the first plane ride either had been on.” That kid, whom Braun has managed ever since, was Justin Bieber—perhaps you’ve heard of him.
Mac Davis 62C
With a star on Hollywood Boulevard and a place in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Scott “Mac” Davis 62C is perhaps best known for his signature song “I Believe in Music,” his pop gold record “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” and several of his songs that Elvis recorded. During his early years in the music business he lived in Atlanta and attended Emory. While students, Davis and fellow band member Paul McLarty 63C 66L used to play around town. Davis worked as a regional manager for Vee-Jay Records, and in the mid-seventies he hosted and starred in his own variety series on NBC, The Mac Davis Show. Elvis Presley made hits out of several of his songs, including “In The Ghetto,” “Memories,” “A Little Less Conversation,” and “Don’t Cry Daddy.” Davis later moved to acting, taking parts in movies such as North Dallas Forty and The Sting II, and starring in the Broadway production of The Will Rogers Follies. One of his goals, he told a reporter, was to hear someone whistling a song he had written, which happened at the Palomino Club in Los Angeles. “I heard a guy whistling the B side of ‘Memories,’ which was a theme song I wrote for [the movie] Charro. . . . I bet nobody ever heard it but that guy and me,” Davis joked.
Keri Lynn Hilson 03OX 05C
Born in Decatur within a few miles of Emory, Keri Lynn Hilson 03OX 05C is an R&B singer and songwriter who scored her first record deal before she was in high school. She continued working in music while at Oxford and Emory, where she studied theater. “Yeah, it’s creative, and it was something I grew up doing, that I figured I was as good as anyone else at,” she told Complex magazine in 2009. In 2005, Hilson became a member of the Clutch, a songwriting and production team that wrote Mary J. Blige’s 2006 hit “Take Me As I Am” and Britney Spears’s 2007 “Gimme More.” Before graduating from Emory, she signed with the rapper and producer Timbaland, and her career took off: she appeared on Timbaland’s chart-topping single “The Way I Are” and in 2009 released her first studio album, In a Perfect World . . . , which went gold. In 2010, Hilson won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding New Artist.
Carol Jenkins Barnett 78C
When Carol Jenkins Barnett 78C came to Emory, her older brother, Howard Jenkins 75C, was a senior finishing his degree in economics. But Barnett eventually opted to transfer to Florida Southern in her hometown of Lakeland to pursue a business degree in marketing. The children of the late George Jenkins, founder of Publix Super Markets, both went on to join the company. Barnett is now an Emory parent; her youngest son, Nicholas Barnett 14C, is set to graduate next year with a degree in English.