World War II veteran and former longtime leader of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce Allen D. Stephenson has died.
Stephenson, 90, passed away Sunday at St. Mary’s Hospice.
Stephenson came to Athens in 1960 to become executive officer of the then-Athens Chamber of Commerce and is remembered for his advocacy of regional development, including successfully lobbying to rename the local chamber the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, and bringing surrounding counties into the chamber’s economic development efforts along with Clarke County.
Stephenson, working with other leaders of his era, advocated economic development steps that seem visionary decades later, such as a limited-access highway around Athens — the Athens Perimeter — and a four-lane, limited-access highway to Atlanta, which was partially realized with the creation of Georgia Highway 316.
“He was a pioneer in getting things off the ground. He was there to lay a lot of groundwork,” said former Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis.
Stephenson was also one of the people who created the Northeast Georgia Area Planning and Development Commission, now the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission. Stephenson was secretary and treasurer for the 12-county, 54-city organization up until the time he retired from the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce in 1985.
“He was vital to what this organization did in the very beginning,” said RDC director Jim Dove. “He was huge on regionalism.”
During his time at the Chamber of Commerce, Athens and the surrounding area saw unprecedented growth, including such milestones as the opening of the Georgia Square Mall on Atlanta Highway in 1981 and Reliance Electric Company manufacturing plants (now Baldor) in 1969.
He also was an advocate for bringing research facilities to the area.
Following his retirement from the Chamber of Commerce, he worked with Coldwell Banker Commercial Upchurch Realty for more than three decades, specializing in industry and commercial properties.
Stephenson was an active member of First Baptist Church of Athens, and served terms as president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Executives Association and the Georgia Economic Development Association. Under two governors, he also served on the Georgia Film and Video Commission, on the Advisory Board of Athens Technical College and was a member of the Athens Rotary Club.
Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church of Athens. The family will receive visitors 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Bernstein Funeral Home on Atlanta Highway. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the First Baptist Church Building Fund or to St. Mary’s Hospice.