The death of Atlanta’s Anne Cox Chambers at 100 on Jan. 31 prompted widespread reflections on her successes in business and philanthropy, as well as personal remembrances from family and friends about her political activism, love of gardening and down-to-earth nature.
Many in the city’s international community were also quick to point out the media heiress’ role as a diplomat, both formally as President Jimmy Carter’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Belgium in 1977, and informally as a private citizen and patron of the arts.
Mrs. Chambers reportedly first came to Atlanta for the premiere of “Gone With the Wind” in 1939 and stuck around.
It’s a fitting connection: If the movie defined the South for generations of viewers, Mrs. Chambers helped shape a new story throughout the 20th century and beyond. Her financial support of organizations from the Atlanta Botanical Garden to the High Museum of Art added momentum to Atlanta’s efforts to become a cultural powerhouse.
Less recognized, however, is how she helped kick-start much of the Belgian interest in Georgia that blossomed into investment after her service there ended.
William De Baets, Belgium’s consul general in Atlanta, praised Mrs. Chambers’ efforts to strengthen U.S.-Belgium relations in a statement expressing his country’s condolences to her family and friends.
“She will be remembered and appreciated for having contributed to the strong relations between the United States, Georgia and Belgium. An important example was the establishment of a direct flight between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Brussels,” Mr. De Baets said. “Sabena Airlines, Belgium’s national airliner at the time, was the first international carrier to fly into Hartsfield-Jackson.”
In the run-up to the Olympics in 1996, some Belgians joked that the state had become an 11th province of their country. The state of Georgia now counts more than 70 companies with investments here in sectors ranging from flooring to pharmaceuticals to solar energy, with an economic impact that runs into the billions of dollars. Fast forward to now, and Atlanta is home to the world’s busiest airport, with convenient connections to hundreds of international destinations.
Mrs. Chambers is also a member of Belgium’s L’Order de la Couronne (The Order of the Crown) and is said to have had the habit of inviting new Belgian consuls general in Atlanta to her home, where she had a portrait on the wall of Belgium’s fifth king, Baudouin.
President Carter, himself a key node Georgia’s connections with the world, said in a statement that beyond her political activism and support, it was Mrs. Chambers’ friendship and national credibility that gave him the confidence to pick her as a U.S. envoy.
“And, unlike some other supporters, she never asked for anything. That was one of the many reason I knew she would represent our country and my administration so well as U.S. ambassador to Belgium. Her appointment was a great joy to Rosalynn and me.”
The former president also emphasized her role in forming the Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta and as a founding trustee of The Carter Center, which fights disease and “wages peace” around the world.
“Her many years of financial support became the bedrock of our human rights work around the world,” Mr. Carter wrote, adding that it was “only fitting that it was a remarkable woman” that made possible his goal for the remainder of his life: addressing inequality facing women and girls.
Mrs. Chambers was also active in what might described as cultural diplomacy. Her estate in France’s Provence region, Le Petit Fontanille, gave her a foothold there that eventually helped spur collaboration between Atlanta and the country’s most treasured arts institutions.
Thanks in part to her backing, the Louvre Atlanta exhibition kicked off in 2006, bringing works of art from the fabled Parisian museum to Atlanta for the first time and providing fuel for future cross-border museum partnerships.
The French government took note: Mrs. Chambers had already received the Legion of Honour award in 1993, but in 2009 Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand promoted her to the rank of Commandeur during a ceremony in the French capital.
She also served as director of the American Society of the French Legion of Honor and a member of the American Advisory Board of the Pasteur Foundation, the French-American Foundation and the MacDowell Colony. In addition, she was a member of the International Council, Museum of Modern Art, National Committee of the Whitney Museum, Council of American Ambassadors and Council on Foreign Relations.
This buttressed an already-strong connection between the art worlds of Atlanta and France, which intensified after the Orly Airport crash of 1962, which killed more than 100 Atlanta arts patrons traveling in France. The Woodruff Arts Center sprang up as a memorial to the victims.
Cox Enterprises invoked Mrs. Chambers’ international work in announcing her passing Jan. 31.
“Mrs. Chambers’ influence on Cox and her work on behalf of Atlanta and the world will not soon be forgotten. Moving forward, Cox will continue to uphold her legacy of giving back while growing our businesses for the future,” the statement read.
Her grandson Alex Taylor, president and CEO of the company, said in a written tribute that it was working alongside her in the garden in France that he really saw her toughness, as well as the fact that she still saw herself as “just a plain girl from Ohio.”
“She was also very strong. She spent a lot of time outdoors, working in her gardens. When I would visit her in the south of France near St. Remy, I would attempt to bond by offering to ‘plant’ with her. We would get a mat and a trowel and go out into the garden and plant bulbs and annuals and all sorts of things.
I consider myself pretty fit. But after an hour I would be covered in sweat and fully exhausted from holding myself in awkward positions, swatting bugs, digging holes, moving dirt. Ten feet away she was not exhausted. She would look cool as a cucumber and she’d do it for hours on end. Tough and strong to the core.”
Read more reflections at https://media.coxenterprises.com/media/notice/index.html or read the detailed Atlanta Journal-Constitution obituary here.