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Billy Thompson Hardman
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Billy Thompson Hardman, 87, died Oct. 18, 2013.

Dahlonega was his adopted hometown.

Hardman was Georgia's first tourism director, the first president of the Southern Travel Directors' Council (now Travel South USA), chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America (now U.S. Travel Association), a key player in development of the Georgia World Congress Center and the architect of the Southeast Tourism Society (STS).

He was the son of the late Inez Thompson Hardman and William Luke Hardman, and was born June 5, 1926 in Colbert. He served in the U.S. Merchant Marines in World War II and attended Piedmont College and Mercer University.

During his tenure as state tourism director, he built the state's first eight welcome centers, launched a tourism advertising program, conducted the nation's first Governor's Conference on Tourism and promoted Georgia throughout the U.S. and in Canada and Europe.

He left state government in 1970 and founded Hardman Productions, which conducted travel and RV trade shows and other events.

In 2002, he was inducted into the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau Hospitality Hall of Fame.

In 1983, Hardman was at the center of creation of the Southwest Tourism Society, which started with seven states and has grown to 12.

Professional development is a key component of STS, and Hardman helped create the STS Marketing College, which leads to Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) certification.

STS Marketing College programs are at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega every summer, and more than 800 tourism professionals have earned TMP certification.

Hardman often credited the success of STS to his wife of 52 years, Dorothy. She died in 2000, and Hardman married Helen Fincher, also a Georgia tourism professional, in 2006.

Survivors include his wife, Helen Fincher Hardman of Dahlonega; son, William T. Hardman and his wife Carol, of Roswell; daughter, Mary Escoe and her husband Gary, of Cumming; sister, Margie Bramlett of Winterville; six grandchildren, Bryan Hardman and Amelia, Jenny Hillman and Michael, Chris Hardman, Allison Bower and Craig, Melony Witt and Andy, Jordan Escoe and Audrey; stepsons, Stuart Fincher and Myra, and Joel Fincher and Melissa, all of Cleveland; nine step-grandchildren, Jordan and Cassie Fincher, Luke Fincher, Dylan Fincher, Shelby Lee, Jacob Fincher, Sierra and Selene Williams, Carlton and Jessica Gravitt; 14 great-grandchildren; various other relatives also survive.

Services were held at 2 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Dahlonega United Methodist Church with the Dr. Don Harp officiating. A reception followed at the Cottrell Circle C Ranch from 5-7 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations were requested made to the Dahlonega United Methodist Church Building Fund, P.O. Box 455, Dahlonega, GA 30533.

Dahlonega Funeral Home of Dahlonega was in charge of the arrangements.