Mason Stephenson, ’71: Three Decades of Steering Progress in Atlanta

Mason Stephenson, ’71

Mason Stephenson, ’71, retired in 2014 from King & Spalding, where he had worked since 1985, including ten years as the managing partner of the firm’s Atlanta headquarters office. Although he has retired from legal practice, he is still applying his legal training in significant ways.

Stephenson went to Atlanta right after graduation, for a job with the firm that is now Alston & Bird. “I grew up on a farm in a small town not very far from Atlanta, and I met my wife when we were in high school there. We got married when I was at the Law School, and it felt right to us to head back toward home,” he said.

Atlanta’s steady growth had turned into a boom—the city’s population in 1971 was 50 percent greater than it had been in 1950—and Stephenson soon found himself focusing on real estate finance, the field he remained in for the rest of his career. “I felt that I had a solid grounding thanks to a great course I had taken at the Law School from Owen Fiss,” he said. “He used a business school textbook and really immersed us in the practicalities of real estate financing.”

Stephenson’s acumen became even more valuable when the boom fizzled in the mid-1970s. “Most of the major lenders in Atlanta had never lost money in real estate until then,” he recalled. “No one really knew exactly what to do. Ideas were welcomed even from the most junior associates. We all learned a lot.”

In the 1980s, Stephenson became an indirect part of Atlanta history when his wife, Linda, joined with the small group known as the Atlanta Nine that led the effort to bring the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta. Mrs. Stephenson’s involvement would last for a decade, including service as a managing director of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Mr. Stephenson and others from King & Spalding provided support to the Atlanta Nine, and after the Games were awarded to Atlanta in 1990, the firm donated substantial legal services.

When Stephenson took on the managing partner role in 2001, the Atlanta office was facing the forthcoming expiration of the lease on the space it occupied. He played a leading role in the deliberations that resulted in a wholesale relocation to a different part of town and guided the move. “Leading that move and heading up the office administration gave me a lot of occasions to reflect on how much things had changed since I first came to Atlanta,” he recalled. “Everything from time sheets—which people didn’t do when I first started—to the substantially increased diversity of the firm.”

He’s been a trustee at the Atlanta Botanical Garden since 2010 and was elected board chair in 2016. His real estate knowledge came in handy when the garden recently negotiated a new lease for the city-owned land that it occupies, and he has been closely engaged with a lawsuit brought under the state’s open-carry gun law, challenging the garden’s prohibition against firearms. The garden has doubled in size since he joined its board, and an additional garden was opened an hour north of Atlanta. “I’d like to take credit for what this wonderful civic asset has become, but that credit has to go to the great leadership it has had over the years, and to the extraordinary vision and skills of the garden’s CEO, who has created a place that will serve this generation and many generations to come,” Stephenson said.

The next generations are on his mind in more personal ways, too. “Atlanta is a great place to live with plenty to do. Linda and I continue to be involved in volunteer work,” he said, “but the best part of retirement is the time we get to spend with our two sons, their wives, and our six fabulous grandchildren, who all live nearby. Life is very good, and we are very grateful.”