Family-Placed Death Notice
HARDMAN, Billy BILLY THOMPSON HARDMAN DAHLONEGA, GA - Billy Thompson Hardman, 87, the first pioneer in tourism for Georgia, the Southeast and the U.S., died October 18, 2013 in Gainesville, Georgia not far from his adopted hometown of Dahlonega. Hardman was Georgia's first tourism director, the first president of the Southern Travel Directors' Council (now Travel South USA), chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America (now U.S. Travel Association), a key player in development of the Georgia World Congress Center and the architect of the Southeast Tourism Society (STS). "Bill Hardman has many legacies, but STS is one that continues to touch people every day and to strengthen the industry he came to love," said Bud Flora, retired senior vice president and former publisher of Southern Living magazine, speaking of the 1,000-member organization that promotes travel in a 12-state region. Hardman, the son of Inez Thompson Hardman and William Luke Hardman, was born June 5, 1926, in Colbert, Ga., served in the U.S. Merchant Marines in World War II and attended Piedmont College and Mercer University. In 1959, Gov. Ernest Vandiver appointed him Georgia's first tourism director. Hardman recalled in a 2002 newspaper interview that he told the governor he didn't know anything about tourism but that the governor asked him to stay for a couple of months. He stayed almost 12 years. Georgia was largely a pass-through state for Florida-bound vacationers then, but Hardman saw huge potential. During his tenure as state tourism director, he built the state's first eight welcome centers, launched a tourism advertising program, conducted the nation's first Governor's Conference on Tourism and promoted Georgia throughout the U.S. and in Canada and Europe. He left state government in 1970 and founded Hardman Productions, which conducted travel and RV trade shows and other events. Hardman was hired in the early 1970s to lobby the Georgia legislature to appropriate $30 million to build the Georgia World Congress Center and to place it in Atlanta. Many legislators wanted the facility in other cities. "There's no Bill Hardman Room in the World Congress Center, but he was the visionary," according to Georgia Public Service Commission Chairman Lauren "Bubba" McDonald Jr. in a 2002 newspaper article that announced Hardman's induction into the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau Hospitality Hall of Fame. Hardman's service on the national stage included being chairman of the Travel Association of America, now U.S. Travel Association, and having the longest tenure on that association's board of any member, more than 40 years. In 1983, Hardman was at the center of creation of the Southeast Tourism Society, which started with seven states and has grown to 12. Professional development is a key component of STS, and Hardman helped create the STS Marketing College, which leads to Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) certification. STS Marketing College programs are at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega every summer, and more than 800 tourism professionals have earned TMP certification. "There are professionals throughout the tourism industry who are the beneficiaries of many programs and projects my father started. He was proud of that," said his son, William T. Hardman, who succeeded his father as president and CEO of STS. Hardman often credited the success of STS to his wife of 52 years, Dorothy ("I did all the talking, and she did all the work"). She died in 2000, and Hardman married Helen Fincher, also a Georgia tourism professional, in 2006. Survivors include wife, Helen Fincher Hardman, of Dahlonega; son, William T. Hardman and his wife Carol, of Roswell; his daughter, Mary Escoe and her husband Gary of Cumming; his sister, Margie Bramlett, of Winterville. six grandchildren; Bryan Hardman (Amelia), Jenny Hillman (Michael), Chris Hardman, Allison Bower (Craig), Melony Witt (Andy), Jordan Escoe (Audrey). And his stepson, Stuart Fincher (Myra), of Cleveland; step daughter, Sharon Fincher Lee (Bryan), of Cleveland; and, stepson Joel Fincher (Melissa), of Cleveland; nine step grandchildren; Jordan Fincher (Cassie), Luke Fincher, Dylan Fincher, Shelby Lee, Jacob Fincher, Sierra and Selena Williams, Carlton and Jessica Garrett. And 14 great grandchildren. Visitation will be held Monday, October 21, 6:00 to 9:00 pm at the Dahlonega Funeral Home, 20 Gibson Rd., Dahlonega, GA, 30533 and Tuesday, October 22, 10:00 am to 12:00 noon at the Dahlonega United Methodist Church. Dr. Don Harp will officiate the service which will be held Tuesday, October 22, 2:00 pm at the Dahlonega United Methodist Church. A reception will be held following the service at the Cottrell Circle C Ranch, 5:00 to 7:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Dahlonega United Methodist Church Building Fund, P.O. Box 455, Dahlonega, GA, 30533. Condolences may be expressed on-line at www.dahlonegafuneralhome.com. Arrangements by Dahlonega Funeral Home, 20 Gibson Rd., Dahlonega, GA, 30533, 706-864-DOVE
Published in Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Oct. 20, 2013.