Bishop’s Mansion is Gone With the Wind
By Nicoletta Richardson, Editorial Assistant
June / July 2014
In recent news, Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory surprised the city’s Catholic community when it was discovered that the mansion he built on property donated by Joseph Mitchell had cost $2.2 million.
Mitchell, a nephew of Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, passed away in 2011, leaving his property and home to the church, specifically requesting that his family legacy be put towards charitable and religious works within the Catholic community.
The last direct descendant in the Mitchell line, he also left the church a 50 percent share of trademark and literary rights to Gone With the Wind.
The plan for the mansion, located in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood on Habersham Street, was put in place when the archbishop’s old residency on West Wesley was sold to the parish to build their new rectory for the Cathedral of Christ the King.
When CNN did a story on the Archbishop’s new 6,000-square-foot abode, many questioned whether the money could have been put to better use. Following the public outcry, Archbishop Gregory said he would sell the property and put the money towards the needs of the community.
Mitchell’s bequest to the church reflected the family’s dedication to their Catholic faith that had passed down through the generations. His great-great-grandfather Phillip Fitzgerald emigrated from Ireland and settled on a plantation in Fayette County, Georgia. Phillip’s daughter, Annie, married Irish emigrant John Stephens and moved to Atlanta where they raised 12 children, one of whom was Joseph’s grandmother and Margaret Mitchell’s mother, Mary Isabel.
Mary Isabel was a dedicated church-goer, and a founder of the Catholic Laymen’s Association of Georgia, a group that defended the state’s Catholic and Jewish citizens against the bigotry of the Ku Klux Klan.
When Margaret Mitchell was killed by a drunk driver in 1949, and her husband’s death followed shortly after, her inheritance passed to her brother, Alexander Stephens Mitchell. When he died, his two sons, Joseph and Eugene, split the multi-million-dollar inheritance, including Margaret’s personal items, such as several signed Gone With the Wind first editions and an unpublished novel written by Margaret’s father about the Mitchell family history.
Eugene was an active member of Christ the King Parish and a philanthropist who donated $1.5 million for a Margaret Mitchell Chair in Humanities and Social Sciences at Morehouse College in Atlanta. When he died in 2007, Joseph became the sole heir to the remaining fortune.
The Reverend Frank McNamee, who was head of the parish at the time of Joseph’s passing, claimed he was shocked at the generous inheritance Joseph left in the hands of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, saying that he had never even mentioned being the nephew of Margaret Mitchell.
“Joseph was a very shy man,” said Reverend McNamee.“You would have had to strike up a conversation with him, if you know what I mean.”