Grace Rollins thinks of the new public health building, which is named for her, as a memorial to her husband.
n Northwest Georgia, not far from the Allatoona Dam and the Etowah Indian Mounds, Grace Crum Rollins likes to sit on the shore of a lake and watch the wild geese. "I always get a kick out of watching them," M rs. Rollins says. "I feed them, and the adults are always so anxious for me to feed the babies too. The males, they watch me closely. And whenever the geese walk away, there is one parent in front and one in back with the babies safely in between."
Mrs. Rollins's observation of these wild geese could well describe her own life's story. She is the matriarch of a family that includes two sons, nine grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. Along with her late husband, O. Wayne Rollins, she has ke pt that flock under her wing, drawing them together for frequent suppers, yearly vacations, and annual reunions.
"I have lived a simple life," Mrs. Rollins says, "and I have tried to be a good wife and mother."
Those who know Mrs. Rollins by reputation alone might be surprised by her statement. After all, she has been the wife of one of the nation's most successful businessmen, the owner of numerous houses and resorts, and a philanthropist courted by foundati ons and institutions. She seems to have been at the center of many of the most exciting developments in Atlanta for the past two decades. Yet, seated in the quiet comfort of the living room of her Buckhead residence, she talks not of the extraordinary eve nts she has witnessed but rather the simple pleasures she enjoys: her delights with wildlife, her love of gardening, and the importance of family.
She also discusses her mission to complete the projects that her husband set in motion before his untimely death in 1991. Included in Forbes magazine as one of the country's greatest business leaders, O. Wayne Rollins was considered by man y, including former Emory University President James T. Laney, as a "business genius." Georgia Governor Zell Miller described him as one of the most generous businessmen in the state. Grace Rollins attributes her husband's success to "hard work and brilli ance. He thought of things the rest of us didn't," she says.
The support of Emory by O. Wayne Rollins and his family has been manifold. He first became involved with the university by working closely with the Candler School of Theology to strengthen its programs. He next served on the university's Board of Trust ees. During his tenure as trustee, he saw Emory's plans for a research center for the basic sciences. With a generous lead gift, he and his wife dedicated their support to this facility, which doubled laboratory space available to researchers working at t he cellular level - and appropriately was named the O. Wayne Rollins Research Center. He understood investments, and he banked on his investments in research paying off in medical and scientific breakthroughs.
Another of his investments was a building to house the Rollins School of Public Health. According to Dean Ray Greenberg, O. Wayne Rollins saw the School as a vehicle for reaching out to underserved communities, bringing those communities the hope of a better life. His family shared his belief and commitment.
The official name of the School's new home is the Grace Crum Rollins Public Health Building, one of the few such buildings in the country dedicated to a woman. Still, Mrs. Rollins claims no honors for herself. Rather, she thinks of the building as a me morial to her husband and his life's work. Although her name will be the first seen by all who enter the new building, Grace Rollins prefers a private, family-centered life to public recognition. Her support, however, does call attention to the woman who made the School's hoped-for home a reality. Her generosity provides, in the words of former US President Jimmy Carter, not only a "gift to the entire Atlanta community" but also "a gift to benefit the world."
Catch of the day: Mrs. Rollins enjoys the simple pleasures of gardening, being outdoors, and fishing.
A conference room in the Rollins Public Health Building honors the memory of Rita Anne Rollins, the family's first grandchild.
imes were not always easy for Wayne and Grace Rollins. They met at church and married after dating for some two years. Their wedding took place during the Depression years when frugality was a necessity. " We did not even have enough money to buy a used breakfast set," Grace Rollins remembers. "And of course, we never bought anything on credit."
Success came to the couple in the 1940s when O. Wayne Rollins built a radio station in Radford, Virginia. He followed that success by constructing another station in Georgetown, and eventually his communications holdings spread over the state of Delawa re. In 1964, in what many consider the first leveraged buyout, the Rollins Company - then made up of Wayne and his brother, John - bought Orkin Exterminating, valued at seven times the Rollins Company's own worth. Unlike many unfriendly takeovers today, t he Rollinses paid for their acquisition out of earnings. Their empire grew to include radio and television stations, oil and gas services, pest control, and security systems, and Wayne Rollins became one of the largest landowners in Florida and Georgia.
As the Rollinses' business grew, so did their family. In 1965, with their sons Randall and Gary, Wayne and Grace moved to Atlanta. And as Randall and Gary Rollins began their own families, they decided to remain nearby. Today, most of the Rollinses' gr andchildren work in the family businesses.
The family's first grandchild, however, died more than 20 years ago at the age of 17. Rita Anne had just finished helping her grandmother with the dishes at the family home place in Catoosa Springs, when she received a phone call. As she picked up the telephone, she was electrocuted. "She was the pride and joy of our lives," Mrs. Rollins recalls. A conference room named for Rita Anne Rollins in the new public health building will honor her memory.
Along with tragedy, the Rollinses also have experienced a large measure of joy. They have remained a close group by playing as well as working together. Each summer, all of the family members pile into a customized Greyhound bus to tour some part of th e United States. Over the past two decades, they have visited every state in the Union, and one year they ventured as far as Switzerland. They also faithfully attend a reunion each year near Ringgold, Georgia. This past year, they met in a recently comple ted wing that the family built onto Smith's Chapel Church. The church addition was another of the projects that Wayne Rollins had begun before he died.
Of her husband, Mrs. Rollins says, "He's the best thing that ever happened to me." She has recorded the good and the tragic of their life together for the past 25 years in several diaries. "Wayne used to ask me, when did such and such happen, and I'd g o dig out my diary and find out," she says. "It is good to have it. I read it and feel renewed." She pauses. "It brings all things back."
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