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Editorial: Crowing for Gainesville's Poultry King
Abit Masseys work promoting chicken industry is only one reason hes beloved across state
Abit and Kayanne Massey pose with a bust statue of Abit that was presented to him during an Abit Massey Appreciation Day held Thursday at Peach State Bank & Trust in Gainesville. The bust statue will be displayed at the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network’s facility in Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Abit Massey at a glance

Career: President of the Georgia Poultry Federation, 1960-2009

Education: 1949 graduate of the University of Georgia, bachelor’s of business administration

UGA connections: Past president of the UGA Alumni Association; a past president of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Alumni Association; a past chairman of the College of Veterinary Medicine Advisory Board; a board member for the Research Foundation; board member, Terry College of Business Alumni Association; Distinguished Alumni Merit Award, 1986; Blue Key Service Award, 1991; Medallion of Honor for Service to the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, 2006; UGA Alumni Merit Award, 1986

Business accolades: Georgia Society of Association Executives’ annual lecture named for Massey since 1978; GSAE’s Clifford M. Clark Award, its highest honor.

State service: Head of the Georgia Department of Commerce, now Economic Development, where he created the tourist division and built the first welcome station.

Other awards: 2012 Harold E. Ford Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association; Presidential Citation from Georgia Tech.

Professional ties: board of directors, Georgia Research Foundation, UGA Real Estate Foundation; emeritus trustee, UGA Foundation

Next time you bite into a piece of Georgia-grown chicken, be sure to pause and thank those responsible for it. That includes the chicken, of course, but also the farmer, the processor and the grocer who all helped put it on your plate.

And be sure to include Abit Massey in your thanks. As Gainesville is the Poultry Capital of the World, he wears the crown in this realm as the Poultry King.

The venerable Gainesville resident has been an energetic advocate for the industry in this area and statewide for more than half a century. There isn’t a soul at the state Capitol, in agriculture or local government, business or nonprofit agency who hasn’t encountered this genial gentleman at some point. He has dipped his fingers in many pies — and not all of them chicken.

Thursday, friends and well-wishers gathered at Peach State Bank to grill a few birds in Massey’s honor. Abit Massey Day was declared by city, county and state officials for a man who has served tirelessly to promote the state’s poultry-growing efforts. He was presented with a bust of himself to be displayed at the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network’s sparkling new facility in Gainesville, fittingly nestled on Abit Massey Way.

“Let me just say that this would be overwhelming and exciting and an honor and a privilege at any time in life, but I am particularly grateful that it comes now at the midpoint of my career,” Massey said to laughter.

Though his age is a well-guarded state secret we won’t divulge, suffice to say it matters little to a man who still acts like a spring chicken.

Massey first landed in Gainesville in 1960. Then head of the state Department of Commerce, he was recommended by Gainesville attorney W.L. Norton to head the Georgia Poultry Federation. Over the next five-plus decades, he pushed and promoted the industry to new heights, all while earning the respect, admiration and affection of those he lobbied.

Though his business acumen is unmatched and his knowledge of the industry second to none, Massey’s chief skill is building relationships. The personal touch he provides with twinkling eyes and a warm handshake have made him a beloved figure beyond Georgia’s borders.

Mike Giles, who succeeded Massey as head of the Poultry Federation, once said of his predecessor and mentor, “Relationships are important in lobbying, but Abit genuinely enjoys meeting people and being their friend. It’s in his nature.”

He’s also a BMOC in Athens. A University of Georgia graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business in 1949, he served as president of the UGA Alumni Association along with many boards, foundations and alumni groups. Earlier this year, he was bestowed the UGA President’s Medal, the university’s highest honor.

And here’s a rarity for a Bulldog: He also was honored by Georgia Tech with the Presidential Citation for his work with its poultry research division, the only UGA alum so cited.

Massey’s efforts with community boards and foundations have earned appreciation beyond his work in poultry. He used his connections to help land the 1996 Olympic events on Lake Lanier when he and Judge Sidney O. Smith took the seed of an idea to Billy Payne, Atlanta chief organizer and fellow UGA alum. Once the Gainesville Hall ’96 backers got the sporting federations on board, the Games were headed our way.

But it’s in the business of growing, processing and promoting chicken that Massey made his greatest mark. His work with companies throughout Georgia and his diligent efforts to boost the industry as a legislative lobbyist has helped make Georgia No. 1 in the nation in broiler production, and poultry the state’s No. 1 agricultural product, worth $38 billion annually. Georgia is the No. 4 poultry producing region in the world; if our state were a nation, it would rank only behind the United States, China and Brazil. The poultry industry employs more than 100,000 Georgians directly or in related fields.

The brown thrasher and its sweet song may be the official state bird, but chicken is the fowl that fills Georgia plates and cash registers.

Which is why, to poultry industry insiders, he is an indispensable ally.

“Abit Massey is a man of the highest integrity and sterling character, and a hero of the poultry industry, especially here in Georgia and the Southeast,” said Pete Martin, vice president of poultry operations with Mar-Jac Poultry of Gainesville.

The Massey family has made its mark in various ways. Abit’s wife Kayanne is a Calhoun native and former Miss Georgia, herself a longtime community stalwart. Son Lewis served as Georgia’s secretary of state and a gubernatorial candidate, now a successful Atlanta attorney. Daughter Camille is a human rights attorney in New York. And grandson Chandler Massey is a rising star as an actor on daytime drama and films.

The Massey family earned the UGA Alumni Association Family of the Year award in 2014.

When poultry industry leaders need an advocate, Massey is there. When Gainesville needs an activist to improve its quality of life, he is there. And when anyone here, in Athens or Atlanta needs a friend and supporter to lend his talents and personality to a cause, he is there.

He’s there for all of us, pushing the love of chicken to all and still going strong — and at only the midpoint of his career. We can’t wait to see what he can accomplish with the bright future he still has ahead of him.

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