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This Day in Georgia History

December 06, 1889

Robert W. Woodruff Born

Businessman and philanthropist Robert W. Woodruff was born in Columbus, Georgia. His family moved to Atlanta when he was four and Woodruff spent almost his entire life there. After attending (but not graduating) from Emory College at Oxford, Woodruff quickly worked his way up the corporate ladder working for White Motor Company, meanwhile investing a considerable amount of his earnings in hometown Coca-Cola stock. To help protect that investment, and to assure his living in Atlanta, he took the position of President of the Coca-Cola Company in 1923 (his father was president of Trust Company Bank and leader of the group that purchased Coca-Cola from the Candler family), leaving an $85,000 annual salary with White to take the $35,000 position in Atlanta. Under his leadership, the Coca-Cola Company became an international and multi-faceted organization. Even after his retirement as president, Woodruff stayed on to chair the company’s finance committee and was the driving force behind the soft drink firm’s phenomenal success. Woodruff was noted for his influential, yet friendly, way with people and for looking at the “big picture” while trusting his employees for the details. His motto, engraved in his office, was: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Woodruff became renowned for his personal philanthrophy–and that of the Woodruff Foundation established by his parents. though his insistence on not being publicly recognized earned him the nickname, “Mr. Anonymous.” He and the foundation donated over $400 million to educational, artistic, civic, and medical projects. Among these were $110 million to Emory University to develop their medical center, another $100 million to Emory’s endowment program, $8 million to the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center, $10 million for the Arts Alliance, $7.5 million for the High Museum of Art, $9 million for Central City Park, $8 million for the Atlanta University Center’s main library, and $1 million for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. Woodruff was a close friend, confidante, and advisor to Atlanta mayors William B. Hartsfield and Ivan Allen, Jr. He died on Mar. 7, 1985.