Buckhead icon Charlie Loudermilk received a grand birthday surprise Tuesday morning: A statue of the Aaron's Inc. founder was unveiled at the Buckhead park that bears his name.
Upon arriving at in the traditional heart of Buckhead, Loudermilk encountered a huge crowd of well-wishers and a number of fellow Atlanta legends.
Noted architect John Portman, Loudermilk's lifelong friend; former Atlanta Mayor and U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young; former Mayor and President Sam Massell; and current Mayor Kasim Reed helped Loudermilk celebrate his 84th birthday on the hot, muggy day. Members of Loudermilk's family and Aaron's employees also were in attendance.
Reed, along with Portman and Young, expressed gratitude at Loudermilk's contributions to Atlanta.
The mayor said that when he was invited to attend the statue ceremony, he directed his staff to clear his schedule. "I'm going to be there for Charlie Loudermilk, because for years and years, he was there for the city of Atlanta."
Along with Young, Reed praised Loudermilk, Portman and Massell as visionary leaders who played major roles in Atlanta's emergence as a world-class city in the 1960s.
Young remembered that the civil rights movement rented tents from Aaron's for its meetings. He cited Portman, Massell and Loudermilk as members of "a community of love and respect" who had worked together in shaping the city. Turning to Loudermilk, he said, "You have been a blessing to all of us."
Portman, who grew up with Loudermilk in Atlanta during the Depression, joked to his old friend "don't get up here and try to out-poor me." He said that he and Loudermilk through the years have swapped stories about how bad things were when they were kids.
Turning serious, Portman said of Loudermilk, "he has a huge heart. He's great about camouflaging that, but he's a real softy. He wants to make a contribution."
Evoking their childhoods, Portman said, "That little boy who rode the trolley car to go to Buckhead to go to the show, that little boy is still here with us."
Then Loudermilk and Atlanta businessman Charles Smithgall, the master of ceremonies, unveiled the 6-foot-2-inch statue, sculpted by Don and Tina Haugen. The statue will be moved temporarily to the Aaron's building nearby until the park can be renovated.
"I'm living a dream life," Loudermilk said at the unveiling. "I have a great family, fantastic friends and a company that's doing very well."
Along with founding Aaron's, a $1.9 billion company based in Buckhead, Loudermilk has donated more than $17 million to charities and causes in the Atlanta region. Loudermilk also purchased the Roxy Theatre — where he used to see those shows as a boy — and renovated it. The first anniversary of the reopening of the renovated will be celebrated at the end of this month.
After the unveiling ceremony, the well-wishers crossed Roswell Road to the theater to cool off in the air conditioning and eat lunch.