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Jim Mathis Jr. leaving behind a great legacy with North Georgia Community Foundation
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Jim Mathis Jr. flips through artwork that lined the walls of his office for the past 18 years at the the North Georgia Community Foundation. He steps down this month from the philanthropic organization. - photo by Erin O. Smith

A lifetime’s worth of memorabilia, plaques, awards and paintings sat on shelves and hung on the walls of Jim Mathis Jr.’s office at the North Georgia Community Foundation.

His collection now sits in boxes or leans against the walls as he readies for retirement at the end of this month. He helmed the foundation, which handles funds for nonprofits, as its president and CEO from 1998 until last fall and has served as president emeritus since then.

Mathis’ daughter Kelly Lee knows her dad won’t stay still after his retirement.

“He’s never not working,” she said. “He’ll find something to get involved in. He’s not just going to disappear. That’s not his style.”

Mathis, who celebrated his 70th birthday Sunday, said he is very proud of his time working for the foundation. During his time there, he has seen the earnings grow from $1.5 million to $50 million, with $150 million under management.

“We help people with the money, how to spend it in effective ways,” Mathis said.

When the foundation first opened its doors, it didn’t have much to work with, but the group persevered.

“We were as persistent as could be,” Mathis said. One of his plaques is a quote from Calvin Coolidge on the subject of persistence.

Lee has been there while her father stayed persistent and grew the nonprofit and said she’s often heard from others about her father’s work ethic. She said people often say that he’s the go-to guy for getting things done in a quiet, behind the scenes kind of way.

“He’s a resource the community has always used,” she said.

Part of his legacy will be the foundation’s growth during the time he’s been a part of it.

“He’s taken it from a small business to a much bigger one,” Lee said. “He’s leaving behind a great legacy.”

But that’s not even the start of it, according to Lee. She said Mathis has been involved in everything from education to helping the impoverished.

“You name it, he’s been involved in it somehow,” Lee said.

Mathis also keeps a framed photo on a shelf of his second day working for the foundation back in 1998. It’s a photo of Mathis receiving a $100,000 check that went toward disaster relief after a tornado hit the area.

Since then, the foundation has controlled more funds for donors. Mathis said there are approximately 300 funds the foundation has, which range from $1,000 to millions.

“We treat everybody the same,” he said.

Everybody who works in the foundation’s building, from Megan Martin, director of donor engagement, and Margaux Dolenc, foundation associate, got kudos from Mathis on their help throughout his tenure.

“We’ve had really great people over the years,” Mathis said.

During his time, he also led the team that got the foundation to be nationally accredited. Now the foundation is able to say that it gives better returns than any other foundation in the state.

“The reason is, we don’t mess with (the money),” he said.

The period of his life leading up to the 1996 Olympic Games is another Mathis remembers fondly.

A solitary oar, gifted to him on behalf of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce in 1994, is the only object still hanging on the walls of his office. It represents the years Mathis spent working to bring the Olympics to Lake Lanier. Mathis’ role started in 1992, when he was asked by the city of Gainesville to compile a book of possible sites and services that might be used in support of the Olympic efforts in Atlanta.

Many tokens of his dedication remain in the office, including the original Olympic torch he carried from the square through the streets of Brenau University now encased and standing in a corner.

He also has framed tickets from the opening and closing ceremonies of the games and a banner with the word welcome written in the five languages that were used.

Mathis acted as chairman on the board for the Gainesville/Hall ’96 Foundation, which helped shape the legacy of the Lake Lanier Olympic Park after the games.

Once the time came for the games to start, he oversaw and recruited more than 2,000 volunteers and helped out in the VIP tent primarily.

The experience left a mark on him personally, but also on the area it now serves.

“Now it brings in 8 (million) to 10 million annually,” Mathis said.

Not only has Mathis been involved in the expansion and revamping of the Lake Lanier Olympic Park, but he also plans to stay involved after he retires.

There will be a museum dedicated to the games and the time since housed at the venue in front of the boathouse. He plans to be involved in the project and has started recruiting a team to help him.

His personality is another contributing factor to his legacy, his daughter said. Lee described him as funny and witty.

“I don’t think people really know that about him,” she said.

When she was growing up, there were times she recalled that were especially funny. Her sister, Katie Dubnik, was a cross country champion in her school days. Lee said her father was so supportive of her sister’s record-breaking times one year that he snuck a jar labeled “wind” in her duffel bag so she could run like the wind.

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