Atlanta ad man Ralph Emerson McGill, Jr. dies at age 65


Veteran Atlanta advertising copywriter Ralph Emerson McGill Jr. suffered a fatal heart attack Tuesday night. He was 65.

McGill was the son of late Pulitzer Prize-winning Atlanta Constitution editor and civil rights crusader Ralph McGill.

Perhaps fittingly, in his final Facebook update to friends Tuesday afternoon, McGill Jr. referenced the unofficial family business.

He detailed a conversation he had with his son Grady, also a budding writer: “Long discussion with my 17 year old and the subtle differences between racism, bigotry, prejudice, equal justice under the law. And the need to think things through after gathering all the facts. Not an easy thing to do for a teenager who is tempted to follow the Facebook mob reactions . . .”

“He was a good friend and a good person,” Buckhead Coalition president and former Atlanta mayor Sam Massell told us. “He helped me in my mayoral campaign and he was in the process of writing a book on that and my other years. He lived in the shadow of a giant but he was his own person. A person of whom his father was proud. I’ll miss his warmth and insightfulness.”

As word spread via social media on Wednesday afternoon, tributes began being posted on McGill’s Facebook page.

Wrote Ted Burn: “Ralph was a partner on many projects. He was a writer who rose above the banal advertising prose we art directors were destined to work with. Ralph was the real writing talent in Atlanta. I will miss him terribly.”

Wrote friend David Patterson: “I feel a great sadness thinking about Ralph’s passing. He was one of a kind and a terrific friend. I am thankful for the time I got to spend with him.”

McGill Jr. was married to Atlanta writer and editor Mary Welch.

According to his company website, in recent years, McGill created campaigns for lifestyle, travel, and automobile clients both for print and broadcast. Clients included Texas Pete Hot Sauce.

In recent years as a journalist, he wrote profiles on record and film producer Dallas Austin for Catalyst magazine and Atlanta Life Inc. CEO Ron Brown for Business to Business magazine.

On the occasion of McGill’s birth in 1945, Atlanta Constitution editor Jack Tarver wired the newborn’s famous father who was in Fiji, covering the final days of World War II.

In author Barbara Barksdale Clowse‘s book, “Ralph McGill: A Biography,” she recalls the tongue-in-cheek telegram Tarver sent the worrying father overseas: “Baby boy, weight six pounds, seven ounces, born Cesarean, 8:42 AM, Wednesday, April 25. Looks like you but is healthy.”

In recent months, McGill Jr’s Facebook friends took to worrying over him after a hospital stay earlier this year.

On May 12, he  reassured them, writing: “Back from a few days of visiting friends in St. Simons. There is something about adjusting to the rhythm of the tides that relaxes and invigorates at the same time.”

On Wednesday afternoon, friends and colleagues were already contributing thoughts to the “Remembering Ralph McGill” Facebook page created by Debbie Inglis Maddox. She posted this note to the writer’s friends: “This page is a remembrance of Ralph McGill, a true Atlanta advertising legend. His family needs assistance in his burial and other expenses. Info will be added soon if you’re so inclined.”

Below the note, friends left fond remembrances.

Wrote Julie Davis Salisbury: “Early in my career, Ralph was known as a Rebel Without A Pause. And it’s sad that late in his career, he was too often the Rebel Without Applause. It was legendary creatives like Ralph with all their eccentricities, notoriety and aplomb, that made the business so stimulating.”

Funeral plans were not yet finalized Wednesday afternoon.

We welcome your remembrances of Ralph Emerson McGill Jr. below.