Lee Walburn: A Sporting Life
From the basketball court to the editor’s chair, with stops along the way
You name it and Lee Walburn has done it – basketball player, baseball player, high and low hurdler, sports editor, sportswriter, Atlanta Braves publicity and promotion director, public relations guru and award-winning magazine editor.
What impresses me most about Roswell Lee Walburn is not what he has achieved but the kind of person he is: loyal, warm, empathetic, generous, altruistic – a giver, not a taker. All the character traits that one would like to have are the traits that Lee Walburn has – in spades.
Lee and I worked together in the old Atlanta Journal sports department. When it came time for me to leave and pursue another career, I went into sports editor Furman Bisher’s office, closed the door, and told him I was resigning. He was surprised, for he was expecting me to be his college sports editor. He did not take kindly to my announcement. An argument of some heat followed, after which I returned to my desk.
Walburn came over to me and said, “What was that all about?” I told him I had just let Furman know I was resigning. I had never done anything else except write sports articles.
“What are you going to do?” Walburn asked me.
“I am going to sell life insurance,” I replied.
“Then I am going to buy the first policy from you,” Lee said. And he did, even though I did not know how to complete the application. Lee was patient beyond reason.
Much later, when I wanted to take my dad to the World Series in New York, it was a sellout.
There were no tickets anywhere. I told Lee about my plight. By then he had become PR director for the Braves.
“Don’t worry,” Lee told me, “you and your dad are going to the World Series.”
And of course we did, thanks to Lee, who made several long distance calls before coming up with two of the best seats in the house.
After a long career as editor of Atlanta Magazine, Walburn, 72, is now retired and living in Armuchee, Ga., about 10 miles out of Rome. He lives in a 106- year-old lakefront home with his wife, Jackie. They have three children, Shannon, Steve and David.
Walburn’s home is not large enough to hold the 200-plus awards he has won. They include “Best Promoter in Pro Sports,” the Sigma Delta Chi “Public Service Award” and the “National Headliner Award” for feature writing, plus numerous honors that Atlanta Magazine won under his leadership.
He has been sports editor of the LaGrange News, assistant sports editor of the Macon Telegraph, editor of the Atlanta Weekly, columnist for the old Atlanta Journal and head of his own public relations firm. He has been a marketing consultant for the Atlanta Hawks and Carolina Cougars.
Walburn was born and grew up in LaGrange. He played basketball at LaGrange High School and helped take his team to the State Class AAA tournament four consecutive years. He was team captain his senior year. He ran track in the spring and played baseball for the Cotton Mill League. He got ink in his blood at La-Grange High and never got it out. He was editor-in-chief of the Clarion, the school newspaper.
At West Georgia Junior College, he was twice captain of the basketball team and an undefeated pitcher on the baseball team. He transferred to LaGrange College on an athletic scholarship and earned his keep playing forward on one of the winningest basketball teams in Georgia for the 1957-58 season.
At the Atlanta Journal Walburn was on his way. He had a short-lived career on the prep beat and he became beat writer for the old Atlanta Crackers. One day he received a phone call from Dick Cecil, General Manager of the Milwaukee Braves. “Cecil told me the team was moving to Atlanta and he wanted me to be the publicity and promotion director. I never dreamed I would ever sit in a major league press box.”
After six years with the Braves, Walburn started his own PR firm, Walburn and Associates, which he ultimately sold to J. Walter Thompson. He went back to the newspaper to edit the Sunday magazine, the Atlanta Weekly, and later, wrote a column for the paper. In 1987, Walburn became editor of Atlanta Magazine, where he spent 15 years, working with and nurturing some of the best writing talent in Georgia journalism history.