Clay Long
LONG, Clay Clay C. Long, 85, of Atlanta, GA, passed away May 29, 2021, at home in the company of his loving family after battling a neurological illness.

Clay rose from humble roots in Demopolis, Alabama, to become a leading lawyer and conservationist. Tough yet compassionate, Clay was a problem-solver. His true moral compass, resolute but unassuming leadership style, clear-eyed analytic skills, and indefatigable work ethic enabled him to build a top law firm from scratch and serve as a trusted adviser to legal clients large and small and governors and mayors regardless of party.

A natural-born negotiator, Clay was a ferocious advocate for the people and causes he represented and believed in. But he knew when compromise was needed, and through the force of his personality and painstaking preparation, he was able to forge consensus as well. Clay was equally comfortable in dapper business suits and baggy hiking shorts. He cherished his role as a mentor—and family tennis matches and walks along the beach at St. Simons Island and mountain trails in Cashiers—far more than any formal position he held.

Had he been bigger and faster, Clay might have pursued football: his high school team won the Alabama state championship. The law called instead. He graduated summa cum laude from Birmingham-Southern College and then magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. As a law clerk for Justice Hugo Black of the U.S. Supreme Court, he drafted the ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark case which established that poor people charged with crimes have a right to an attorney. Despite his central role in the case, the most he ever allowed was "I did help."

Before law school, Clay studied on a Rotary Fellowship in London, England, where he met a California girl, Elizabeth Ehlers, the woman who would be his wife of 61 years. His oft-stated reason for marrying her was characteristically blunt: when he paid for a meal, she ate everything on her plate.

Settling in Atlanta in 1963 with Elizabeth and their baby daughter, Clay began his legal career at Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan. By 1974, he decided to strike out on his own, a risky move that was virtually unprecedented at the time. Clay and colleagues founded Long, Aldridge, Stevens & Sumner, a corporate and commercial real estate practice. Under his leadership, the four-person endeavor ballooned 100 times in size, becoming a leading corporate firm in Georgia and across the country. In 2002, Long, Aldridge and Norman merged with a Washington-based firm to become McKenna Long & Aldridge. Along the way, Clay owned a bicycle shop with a friend (the company T-shirts long outlasted the business itself), ran many miles, and played countless matches of tennis.

In 1989, Clay was the first recipient of the Atlanta Bar Association's Leadership Award. In 2002, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Birmingham-Southern College. In 2004, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Anti-Defamation League.

As Clay's success grew, so did his desire to give back to the community. While chairing the growing law firm, Clay served as Chairman of the Board of MARTA and as Chairman of the Georgia Conservancy, where he helped develop its influential smart growth program called "Blueprints for Successful Living." He continued to work on environmental issues with the Nature Conservancy, the Jekyll Island Authority, and the Jekyll Island Foundation.

Clay chaired an Advisory Committee appointed by Georgia Governor Roy Barnes to recommend a program to protect community greenspace, then chaired the Georgia Greenspace Commission, which supervised the granting of over $60 million to local governments for the acquisition of greenspace. In 2004, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue appointed Clay to chair his Advisory Council for the Georgia Land Conservation Partnership. The Council proposed a state-wide, comprehensive land conservation plan, which became the basis of the Georgia Land Conservation Act of 2005.

Clay's public service extended far beyond environmental conservation. He served as President of the Atlanta United Way and was a member of the boards of directors of Research Atlanta, the Atlanta Urban League, the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library, the Metropolitan Atlanta Community Foundation, Birmingham-Southern College, and many others.

Clay is survived by his wife, Elizabeth E. Long, his daughter and son-in-law, Katie Long and Adam Gelb, his grandchildren, Max Gelb and Kate Denton, and his nephews, Jimbo Clem and Hank Patterson. He was preceded in death in 2003 by his beloved daughter, Polly Long Denton.

There will be a celebration of life for Clay later this summer. The family requests that any tributes in his honor be made to the Clay Long Fund at the Georgia Conservancy.
Published by Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Jun. 2, 2021.
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13 Entries
Tutsie and David
June 30, 2021
Families First Board & Team
June 21, 2021
I offer my sincere condolences to Judge Long, Katie and the rest of Clay's family. Clay was a brilliant and courageous man, lawyer and leader. I was blessed to have been among those mentored by him. I appreciate that Clay supported me when I practiced law with his firm. I appreciate even more that he supported me when I decided to leave the practice of law to pursue another path.
Rusty Tolley
June 13, 2021
Kent Alexander
June 11, 2021
Paige Alexander & Steve Grand
June 11, 2021
Clay was a wonderful lawyer and friend. He was intellectually rigorous, thorough and careful in his analysis and advice. He was a brilliant teacher of young lawyers, and always kind and gentle in his manner. Many clients looked to him for wise advice. Many looked to him for friendship, which he gave generously.
William Carney
June 8, 2021
The board and staff of the St. Simons Land Trust extend heartfelt condolences to Judge Long, Katie, and the rest of the family.
Emily Ellison
June 5, 2021
Clay was a charming southern gentleman, a brilliant intellect and scholar, a wonderful friend, and a lucky husband. Larry and I loved getting to know both Elizabeth and Clay, and Larry always enjoyed getting in a good game of tennis with Clay - and talking about Birmingham Southern. I'm so glad to read this obit, and learn about all of Clay's incredible accomplishments in law, and in all the ways he gave back to Atlanta. Truly, the end of an era ...
Betty Londergan
June 4, 2021
Family, friends and colleagues of Clay will appreciate that I am under contractual obligation not to disclose details, but I can say that I know of many young people who's lives were positively influenced by Clay. He made the trail easier for others to follow. You can ask for no greater achievement in life. I was extremely lucky to be mentored by him. A true gentle man. (Only sorry that I never got a bridge lesson.)
June 4, 2021
A life well-lived!
Ed Hardin
June 3, 2021
So sad. Clay was a class act. Very bright and yet humble. One of the best bridge players in my classes and one of the most likeable at all times.
Larry Cohen
June 2, 2021
Clay was a very special person on so many fronts. Being his law partner, friend and beneficiary of the betterments that he gave to society is a special gift that he and Liz gave to so many of us. His legacy will be a continued blessing for years to come.
Bill Ide
June 2, 2021
Clay was one of those people who all could admire. I was proud to have known him, dealt with him professionally and watched his ascendency to the top. He was a remarkable person and I treasure our long term contact.
Donald A. Weissman
June 2, 2021
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