ALBANY — While the historic marker that now stands as a permanent reminder of former Georgia Gov. George Busbee’s ties to Albany is intrinsically linked to the surviving members of Busbee’s family, the marker at Busbee’s former 1205 W. Third Ave. home is perhaps even more closely bound to businessman Billups “Bo” Johnson.
It was Johnson who spearheaded the two-year effort to have a marker placed on the site as a tribute to Busbee, the state’s first two-term governor, an effort that paid off Thursday with a dedication ceremony and an unveiling of the marker.
“There are a lot of people that we need to thank today,” Busbee’s son, George “Buz” Busbee Jr., said. “But, most of all, I want to say, ‘Thank you, Bo Johnson.’ We wouldn’t be here today if not for you.”
Through his work with the Albany-Dougherty Historic Preservation Commission, the local Thronateeska Heritage Center and, finally, with the nonprofit Georgia Historical Society, Johnson and others involved in the project made the historic marker a permanent part of Albany’s history.
“I’ve been asked many times why I did this, and the answer is simple: community pride,” Johnson said. “I’m sure if George Busbee was here today he’d tell us to be proud of our history. And he’d also tell us to get to work, to be the workhorse that he was.
“George Busbee had a way of emphasizing this town’s strengths, and he had such a huge impact on our community and on the state of Georgia because he spoke the language of business. I challenge the citizens of our community to take a renewed sense of ownership in our community, to become workhorses for our future.”
Former Georgia Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, whose father, Fred Taylor, was instrumental in helping Busbee secure the governorship in 1974, offered fond memories of a man he called “a political hero of mine.”
“Our state and our community are very much indebted to George Busbee,” Taylor said. “He delivered the first 5-year-old kindergarten program in the state, he was an economic development leader statewide, and he led the efforts to bring businesses like Miller Brewing and P&G to Albany.
“I remember on election night in 1974, Gov. Busbee and my mom and dad getting on an airplane to fly up to Atlanta for what they thought would be a concession speech. Lester Maddox had the lead in the race, and Bert Lance was comfortably in second place. By the time their plane landed in Atlanta, though, the large African-American and labor votes in Savannah swung second place to Gov. Busbee, 21 percent to 19 1/2 percent. Maddox had 38 percent, but, as is usually the case in an election like that, he’d maxed out his vote total, and Gov. Busbee won in the runoff.”
Taylor said Busbee was such an effective leader because of his knowledge in office.
“At that time, legislators didn’t have staff,” the former lieutenant governor said. “George Busbee won a lot of friends at the Capitol by helping write legislation for his peers.”
Buz Busbee told how the former governor coined his famous slogan, “Elect a workhorse, not a showhorse.”
“We were sitting around the table in our kitchen in this house, and daddy told the family he was going to run for governor,” Buz Busbee said. “He was telling us that he had only 9 percent statewide recognition, that there were a lot of excellent candidates in the race and that Lester Maddox would be tough to beat.
“My sister Jan wanted to defend him, I guess, so she said, ‘Daddy, all Lester Maddox can do is ride a bicycle backwards. That’s not you. You’re not a showhorse, you’re a workhorse.”
Albany/Dougherty Planning Services Director Paul Forgey said getting state approval for a historic marker was not as simple as it might have seemed.
“Typically, when an event is looked at from a historical perspective, you’re looking at a period of 50 years,” Forgey said. “I think the Georgia Historical Society looked at the significance George Busbee had not only on this community but the state as well.”
Georgia Historical Society Membership and Outreach Associate Elyse Butler said the decision to sign off on the marker had more to do with Busbee’s historic impact than on the person himself.
“Certainly, Gov. Busbee played a prominent role in Georgia’s history, and typically there is a specific period of time that must pass before we honor an individual,” Butler said. “But this was more about his governorship, about the significant role Gov. Busbee played in Georgia history.”
Johnson joked about the telecommunications outlets that were in an outbuilding at the 1201 W. Third Ave. property that he bought on the lot next to the Busbee home, which is now being used as offices by Will Geer and Associates and David Prisant Insurance.
“I asked why all these phone connections were in that building, and I was told that used to be a GBI office,” Johnson said. “I thought maybe they were there to protect Gov. Busbee, but it turns out they were there to keep an eye on Buz.
“But now the offices in this house that was the Busbee family home is filled with ‘old Albany’ families. I know George Busbee would be proud of that.”
Thronateeska Executive Director Tommy Gregors announced at the conclusion of the unveiling ceremony that memorabilia from Busbee’s family and political career would be housed at the center.