Making His Mark
Atlanta architect George Heery has designed more than 100 stadiums around the world
If the Bulldog nation is enamored with Sanford Stadium, it can thank a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket.
George Thomas Heery, who has a little Bulldog in him, but graduated from Tech, was not only the architect, engineer and construction manager for the revamped stadium, he also helped UGA president O.C. Aderhold come up with the financing plan.
Heery built two new levels in the South Stands, the new President’s Box, new restrooms and 60,000 new seats that replaced most of the old 50,000 seats. “Sixty thousand seats by the 1960 season opener,” was Heery’s cry. He had an even bigger job by 1980 – 80,000 seats and an enclosed East Stands.
Although Heery takes pride in his work around the hedges, his real pride and joy is Rich Stadium, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. “Make no mistake about it,” he says, “Rich Stadium is the perfect open traditional football stadium. There are 80,000 seats and an excellent view from every one of them.”
For the Georgia Dome, Heery, a Navy gunner on a landing craft medium in World War II, called out the Marines. He brought in architects Bill Finch, a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima, and Cecil Alexander, a decorated Marine fighter pilot. He also brought in Wilton Ferguson, his partner for 30 years.
In addition to Rich Stadium, Heery left his mark on 101 other sports facilities, including Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., the World Cup Stadium in Paris, and a soccer stadium in Saudi Arabia. He also did advisory work for stadiums in Calgary and Montreal.
Heery was born to be an architect – and a Yellow Jacket. When he wasn’t in school, Heery followed his dad, also an architect, to every job. “I never considered any other career,” he says. “From the time I was eight years old I knew I wanted to be just like my dad – an architect and a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket.”
Born in Atlanta but raised in Athens, Heery got his first – and last – taste of playing football in the Classic City. “I was the worst player on the worst team Athens High ever had,” he says, “and I never set foot on the playing field again.”
In fact, Heery started college as a Bulldog, but not by choice. When he came home from the Pacific after World War II, Georgia Tech wouldn’t enroll him because it didn’t have dormitory space. He spent two quarters at UGA before he found dorm space at Tech. From then on it was all Tech and all architecture.
“Graduating from Tech was the toughest obstacle in my life. All I ever did there was attend classes and study, and study and study. When I graduated it was like getting out of prison,” he says.
Although Heery had his difficulties with calculus and advanced math courses, he made all As in architecture, was selected to Tech’s prestigious ANAK honor society and earned two degrees in architecture – a bachelor’s and a master’s.
Bill Finch, Heery’s future partner and the advisor for his master’s degree, was so impressed he hired the new architect as soon as he graduated. “Finch said I was a lousy businessman,” Heery recalls. “I was a dreamer, a visionary but with no business acumen. So, at the encouragement of Finch and my wife Betty … I enrolled in the Harvard University Advanced Management School. It was like going to Tech all over again, work and study, work and study. Prison all over again.”
Heery, who will turn 80 in June, has no plans to retire. Like his father before him, he lives for architecture. He served as board chairman for Heery & Heery before forming Brookwood Program Management, his current firm. His hobbies include the study of architectural history and traveling the world to see differences in architecture.
His son Shepherd is an architect in San Francisco; daughter Laura has a successful architectural practice in Connecticut and New York; younger sons Neal and George, Jr. are residential brokers in Atlanta. The Heerys have seven grandchildren.
But if you think architecture is the love of Heery’s life, you’re wrong. He remains madly in love with his wife, Elizabeth (Betty), and on June 19 – the day after his birthday – the couple will celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary.