Portions of Hospitality Highway, also known as Ga. 400, that run through Dawson and Lumpkin counties were re-named Monday to honor a pioneer in the tourism industry.
With family, friends and former colleagues present, signs were unveiled re-naming the road as the Bill T. Hardman Hospitality Highway.
"Everyone who knew him called him 'Mr. Hospitality' because of his many accomplishments," said his widow, Helen Hardman. "It is extremely fitting that the portions of Georgia 400 Highway in Dawson and Lumpkin counties will be called 'The Bill T. Hardman Hospitality Highway'."
Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Haynes offered a personal tribute to a man who she referred to as "one of the biggest supporters of our community, Georgia and tourism" that she had the privilege of knowing.
"I will forever remember him as a man who had an untamable passion for connecting and supporting people and tourism," Haynes said.
The re-naming meant a great deal to Hardman's son, Bill, Jr., who was his replacement at the helm of the Southeast Tourism Society (STS).
"It's a honor to have his name in signage," Hardman Jr. said. "It means a lot to his family."
The re-naming was the results of efforts of many individuals, including Ga. Rep. Kevin Tanner.
"Bill was a great Georgian," Tanner said. "He did so much through so many decades to promote tourism and for Dawson County. It was a great loss when he passed."
Bill Hardman Sr. was the first director of tourism for the State of Georgia, with Gainesville's Abit Massey as Georgia's Commissioner of Commerce. He started the State Welcome Program, second in the nation to do so. He conducted the nation's first Governor's Conference on Tourism, helped organize and served as the first chairman of the USA Travel Organization and served on the board of directors for 49 years. In the early 1970s, he raised the $30 million needed to build the Georgia World Congress Center. In 1983, he organized the Southeast Tourism Society, an association linking members of Congress in 13 Southeast States with tourism professionals to discuss cooperation between government and private sector tourism businesses. He moved to Dahlonega, then created the Southeast Tourism Society Marketing College in 1991 which meets each year at the University of North Georgia.
Along with Dahlonega civic boosters, Hardman led a wagon train filled with gold, mined in Dahlonega, to the State Capitol. The gold was used to cover the State Capitol dome. In 2002, Hardman was awarded the Tourism Lifetime Achievement Award by the State of Georgia and was inducted into the Atlanta Hospitality Hall of Fame.
"His contributions will be felt for generations to come," Tanner said.