Local leaders discuss their hobbies
By Cory Sekine-Pettite
We all have hobbies and passions. They’re what fuel us. They’re how we find new friends. They’re how we relax and relieve stress. Believe it or not, our local leaders and government officials have hobbies too. So get to know them a little better as they talk about their passions.
Brent Brown, Founder of Chesley Brown International
Walking into the office of Brent Brown’s security company is akin to walking through a museum. Brown has amassed an impressive collection of militaria — uniforms, equipment, coins and other items of historical significance. It’s all on display at Chesley Brown International, and each item has a story for which Brown is more than willing to share. But perhaps what’s most remarkable is the fact that Brown didn’t have to purchase most of his assemblage; people have just given these historical items to him because they know of his passion for all things military.
“I don’t buy anything with only one rare exception that I can think of. Everything has been given to me with a story, with some connection,” he said. “So as you walk through the office, unless your eyes glaze over, I could literally spend two hours with you just sharing the stories and the different artifacts. And to me that’s the fun of it; that’s the magic of it, if you will.”
Brown considers his collection of militaria to be on loan from the families. He says if future generations ever want any of the items returned that he would do so gladly. But more often than not, they want Brown to keep their loved ones’ old uniforms, documents, etc. They know the items are in good hands. Some family members have even become regular visitors to Brown’s office/museum.
If you’re asking yourself, “So what’s the one item he actually bought?” It’s a replica of a police officer’s uniform (that he had made) from Bell Aircraft Corporation, which used to build B-29 Bomber planes where the Lockheed Martin plant now stands. Yes, the company had its own police force. Brown’s grandmother was a riveter on the assembly line for those planes. “I was fascinated with what it took to secure a plant like that during World War II,” he said.
Brown was able to find a matching set of Bell police badges online, but couldn’t track down a uniform, so he contacted the company that makes the uniforms for his own company and asked if they could make him a Bell uniform using the research he collected. “So that’s the one item that I kind of recreated that I did purchase, but it was a story that I wanted to tell and I felt like it fits with who we are and what we do as well.”
Jeff Drobney, City Manager for Kennesaw
If you live in Kennesaw or have regular business with the municipality, then you may have seen City Manager Jeff Drobney running through City Hall. But did you know that you also might find Drobney running along the roads and trails of Cobb County? The triathlete (5 half Ironman triathlons and 5 full Ironmans completed thus far) found his passion for fitness in 2009 when he says he found himself overweight, out of shape and in the beginning stages of high blood pressure.
“At that point I resolved and committed to myself that I would lose weight and get in shape,” he said. Drobney joined a gym and lost 80 pounds in about four months. He then discovered running and the Get Fit Atlanta organization and started training for what would be his first marathon — the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. “So I guess you can say my passion and commitment for running started in April 2009 when I ran my first three-mile training run in what would become a six-month quest to get ready for my first marathon,” Drobney recalled. “After a few years of only focusing on running, 5ks, 10ks, half marathons and marathons, I became interested in triathlons and in 2011 completed my first Ironman Triathlon.”
It was through all of the rigorous training for these events that Drobney said he found his “tribe.” “I found a group of people that shared common goals and passions — to live a healthy lifestyle, to stay physically active through all stages of life and to enjoy the outdoors,” he said. “Training for a marathon or long distance triathlon means long runs of two, three even four hours — it is always easier and a lot more fun to have training partners. …It was also during those long runs that I really got to know a person — we talked about family, politics, vacations and really the trials and tribulations of life. Same for long bike rides when I am training for an Ironman. You need to occupy your mind and time when you are riding a bike for five to six hours.”
In addition to the physical changes, Drobney says his passion for fitness has transformed him in multiple ways, including learning to be disciplined, not taking shortcuts, doing everything with a passion and purpose, and recognizing your cheerleaders in all aspects of your life. “You did not get to the finish line by yourself,” he says.
Ann Harris, Superior Court Judge
If you’re lucky, your introduction to Superior Court Judge Ann Harris will be at SunTrust Park and not in her courtroom. Judge Harris has been a baseball fan since she was a child, listening to Atlanta Braves games on the radio with her family in Birmingham, Alabama. Her appreciation for the game developed into a passion once she started college at Auburn University because she could leave campus and be at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in about two hours.
“I met my [future] husband and a bunch of his friends the spring of my freshman year,” she said. “They liked to watch baseball, basketball, football — the whole nine yards. But this was in the spring so baseball was the game of choice and the sport of choice to watch.” When the group decided that a mid-week, day game was the perfect opportunity to catch the Braves, Harris was onboard. “I went and it was just …It was wonderful; it was my first major league game I’d ever been to. …I thought: ‘There’s nothing better than sitting here watching baseball in the spring.’”
Harris was hooked. To this day, she still makes sure to catch at least one day game per season in the middle of the week. “There’s nothing better than a spring or summer afternoon when you’re just sitting and watching baseball and having a beer and the rest of the world is out there working,” she says. “It’s relaxing because my jobs have always been very busy and my days are always very packed with the kind of stuff [criminal cases] I deal with.”
As a fan of the Braves since the early ‘80s, Harris has witnessed first-hand a lot of exciting games and multiple heartbreaks. She has been to World Series games; she has gone to spring training games in Florida; she has been to Cooperstown to see former Braves players inducted into the Hall of Fame; and of course, she was able to attend opening games for both Turner Field and SunTrust Park.
Judge Harris doesn’t consider herself a collector of memorabilia, but she does have a few signed baseballs and photographs. “It’s not like I hang around the baseball field and collect signatures. I confess: These are things that I would win like at a silent auction or something like that,” she said. “Mainly, I have stuff that I’ve collected just from games we’ve been to.”
Barry Morgan, Cobb County Solicitor General
Barry Morgan is a Disney enthusiast and collector of “Disneyana” — items such as theme park souvenirs, toys, prints and other ephemera. The hobby itself is not unusual; in fact, it’s quite popular around the world with millions of people. But what is at least a little out of the ordinary is the fact that Morgan didn’t discover his passion for Disney until he was 42.
“That’s when I first went to Walt Disney World,” Morgan said. “My sons were two and seven, and it was the first family trip and I absolutely fell in love with everything about it and [Disney World] sort of became a family go-to [vacation destination]. I think in the intervening 21 years, I’ve probably been 15 times.”
Morgan says he deeply appreciates Disney’s customer-focused philosophy, which he says can be a great model for other businesses to follow. He’s more of a fan of that aspect of Disney, rather than the films and cartoons. His Disneyana collection began with park souvenirs and gifts from family and friends. Morgan and his sons got into Disney pin collecting as well, when the craze was at its peak after the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. “I’ve collected some pretty nice gifts over the years,” he said. “The other thing that I started doing a couple of years ago is trying to get healthier, and I began running and then I got into the Disney races.”
He has since run a 5K, half marathon, and a full marathon all at Disney World — and he is going back this fall to run another 5K. “I tell people that I know the exact date of the first and last marathon I ran because it’s on the same day,” Morgan jokes. He just wanted one of those unique Mickey Mouse-themed medals. “You pay a price for them [physically],” he said. “But they are just so neat.”
In total, Morgan estimates that he has between 50 and 60 pieces in his collection. That “Disney shrine” is all at his office. So, what is his favorite piece? The former high school band director doesn’t hesitate to respond. It’s a drawing he has of Mickey Mouse as a bandleader. One of his friends had a Disney animator draw it for him. “People went out of their way to have something like that made,” he said. “And it sort of melds my obsession with Disney and my obsession with music as well.”
Morgan is looking forward to sharing his passion for Disney with his grandchildren. “I’m looking forward to one day when I have grandchildren, to be able to share that experience as well. Of course, then I get to experience it through the eyes of children once again. There’s nothing greater than that.”
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2018 issue of Cobb In Focus.