Community contributions of Porter remembered

It’s not often that people leave a lasting, tangible mark on a community after their death.

There are the occasional plaques or statues that mark the passing of notable Macon residents.

For Ben Porter, there’s the entire Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

Friends who remembered Porter, who died Thursday at age 77 after battling lung cancer, noted that he was a lifelong champion for the city and one of the key people in establishing the trail. In 2009, the Porter Pavilion in Water Works Park was dedicated to him.

“Our community has lost a great friend and an advocate,” Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said. “He was instrumental in the conception and the creation of the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail. He was a major moving force bringing that to fruition. The pavilion that bears his name is an exceptionally meaningful place and a tribute to him.”

At last year’s dedication ceremony, Porter told more than 100 people that he wanted to make the Ocmulgee River central to the city once more.

“Macon was born on the river but for the last hundred years ignored the river,” Porter said at the time. “(The trail) was an opportunity to get people back to the river.”

In the early 1990s, Porter came up with the idea for a trail along the river along with Juanita Jordan of the Peyton Anderson Foundation and Brenda Burnette of the Trust for Public Land while he was serving as chairman of the state’s Board of Natural Resources.

Frank Amerson, chairman of the Macon Water Authority, said Porter was the person who persuaded the state to put forth about $1.5 million to help get the process going.

“He contributed a lot to this community,” Amerson said. “He did a lot of work for the public good, a lot of things with a lot of different groups. He was as good a speaker as you will find.”

Some of that speaking ability could be traced to Porter’s roots in radio. He started working as a radio host at age 15 for a station in his native Valdosta before coming to Macon to work at WBML in 1958. In the early 1960s, Porter bought WCRY and owned other stations.

But Porter’s interests and influence extended far beyond radio. He served as president of Charter Medical International and was senior vice president of Charter Medical Corp. in the 1970s.

Mike Ford, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, said that’s when Porter became his mentor. Porter was not only noted for his community involvement in Macon, but all across the state, Ford said, such as serving as vice chairman of the North Georgia Mountain Authority. Porter spent the last couple of years working on the development of Jekyll Island.

“He was important for that in terms of bringing balance between the development being done and the preservation of the island,” Ford said.

“He tried to do a number of things for a number of causes,” added another friend, Hunter Johnson. “He always wanted to do things for other people.”

Still, it was Macon where Porter made his greatest mark, serving on a number of community boards, including his leadership of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce. Kirby Godsey, the chancellor of Mercer University, noted Porter’s time as a trustee for the school.

“He was a wonderful partner,” Godsey said. “It was during that time that we developed the School of Medicine. ... Ben was an influential and inspiring voice in both the local community as well as the entire state.

“Ben saw further ahead than most, he accomplished more than most and he was an influential leader more than most.”

Ford noted that when it came to leadership, Porter always wanted to be in the driver’s seat. Ford said he called Porter once, offering to drive him to Emory University for Porter’s cancer treatment. When Ford arrived at Porter’s home, however, he found Porter already in his own car, waiting to drive Ford to Atlanta instead.

“He liked being in control,” Ford said.

Porter is survived by his wife, Hazel Hiers Porter, and his son, Ben G. “Skeet” Porter III. Services for Porter are scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m. at Vineville Baptist Church, 2591 Vine-ville Ave.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.