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'Mr. Tourism' Bill Hardman dies
8I0P Bill Hardman pic

Billy Thompson Hardman, 87, the man affectionally known as Mr. Tourism died Saturday, Oct. 18, at Northeast Georgia Medical Center following a brief illness.

I honestly dont know if there are enough kind words in the English language to describe Bill Hardman, said Dawson County Chamber President, Christie Haynes. He was the first Chamber member to take me to lunch once I arrived in Dawsonville, and he has been an ardent supporter of our community, our Chamber, and all of our tourism efforts. He was a man who put a smile on the face of everyone who came in contact with him.

He was the first tourism director of the state of Georgia, remaining in the job for 12 years. During his time in that position he built the states first welcome centers, launched an advertising program inviting people to visit the state, and promoted Georgia throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Hardman left state government in 1970 and went on the found Hardman Productions, which conducted travel and RV trade shows

and other events.

It was also in the early 70s that he was hired to lobby the state legislature to appropriate $30 million to build the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. There were many in the legislature who wanted the facility in their congressional districts.

Hardman was active in tourism on the national stage as well as in Georgia. He was the first president of the Southern Travel Directors Council. He chaired the Travel Industry Association of America, now the U.S. Travel Association, serving on the board for an unprecedented 40-plus years.

He conducted the nations first Governors Conference on Tourism and created the Southeast Tourism Society (STS) in 1983.

STS is still going strong. The organization grew from seven to 12 states, and began a Marketing College for professional development that meets every summer in Dahlonega.

Bill and his wife Dorothy were married for 52 years. She passed away in 2000, and Bill married Helen Fincher, also a Georgia tourism professional, in 2006.

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.

Hardman is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter Mary Escoe, Cumming; son Bill Jr., Atlanta; sister, Margie Bramlett; Winterville; six grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Services were held Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2 p.m. at Dahlonega United Methodist Church.

Editor/Publisher Kimberly Boim contributed to this report.