“Amilee was a visionary leader far ahead of her peers. She thought in terms of future generations rather than just tomorrow.”
– Former State Senator John Foster
Amilee Chastain Graves, the “First Lady of the Mountains,” was a newspaper publisher, a mayor, and a visionary who spent her life working to make the northeast Georgia region a better place to live.
Amilee was born November 18, 1910 in Winder, Georgia. She graduated from Chattahoochee High School in Clermont and went on to get her degree from Berry College in 1929.
In 1935, Amilee married Charles Taylor Graves and only eight years later the two purchased the Tri-County Advertiser newspaper from Charles’ father and moved to Clarkesville, Georgia. They worked side-by-side at the paper, performing every job from reporting to running the press until his death in 1967, when Amilee continued on as sole editor and publisher of the paper. She was well known and respected as an editor who stood by her convictions. In fact, she was the only woman out of twenty-five Georgia editors to be invited to the White House for a discussion luncheon with President Kennedy.
In 1950, Amilee was elected mayor of Clarkesville. She was the first woman to hold an elected office in Habersham County and among the first female mayors in the state of Georgia. She served six consecutive two-year terms, choosing not to run in 1963. In 1971, though she did not run, she was elected once again to the mayoral chair. A large number of write-ins voted her in when the incumbent mayor ran unopposed that year.
Amilee was responsible for the vast number of improvements made to Clarkesville, aiding in its growth. She helped to organize the city fire department, had a new city hall built and added a city park with facilities for youth recreation. She had tax appraisers hired to ensure a fair and equitable tax system. For her persistence in the construction of new water and sewage plants, Amilee was elected to the board of directors of the Georgia Municipal Association. She became known across the state as an activist for Georgia cities.
When she left office in 1964, Amilee organized Clarkesville’s first Mountain Laurel Festival, which continues to attract locals and tourists alike. It was the Mountain Laurel Festival, a first of its kind for the region, which sparked many other festivals in other area towns hoping to increase their visibility and tourism.
Amilee is perhaps best remembered across the northeast Georgia region for her role in the planning and construction of the lodge and conference center at Unicoi State Park. As chairman of the North Georgia Mountains Authority, Amilee worked for ten years to get state and federal funding to see the completion of the center, which has improved the tourism of the surrounding counties. The park is the “Crown Jewel” of the North Georgia Mountains. Amilee’s daughter Lynne said of the park, “I believe Unicoi was one of her [mother’s] most fulfilling projects. The completion of that facility was one of the highlights of her life.
The conference center was named for Amilee Graves in 1978. Over 400 people came for the dedication and unveiling of Amilee’s portrait which still hangs over the main fireplace in the lodge’s great room.
Amilee passed away November 3, 1983 and was buried in her beloved Clarkesville but her civic achievements will not soon be forgotten. She served as president of the Habersham Chamber of Commerce and received the Distinguished Service Award. In 1973, she was presented with the Women of Achievement Award from the Habersham Business and Professional Women. She was also awarded the Berry College Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award. Some of the numerous organizations she belonged to were the Habersham County Hospital Auxiliary, State Board for Crippled Children, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Georgia Conservancy.
Amilee Chastain Graves never ended her endeavors to better north Georgia; her love of the region was truly her greatest quality.