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The Brumby family's fortunes have, for generations, been tied to Marietta. The family has distinguished itself in local politics, in newspaper publishing through the Marietta Daily Journal, and in business by way of an iconic rocking chair that has graced porches from humble residences to the White House.
The Brumbys' connection to Georgia began with James Remley ("Jim") Brumby, the eighth child of Catherine Sarah Remley and John Greening Brumby. Born in 1846 in Mississippi, Jim Brumby followed his parents in 1861 from Benton, Mississippi, to Marietta, where the elder Brumby took a job managing a tannery that supplied the Confederate army during the Civil War (1861-65). That same year Jim Brumby entered the Georgia Military Institute, which was founded by his uncle Colonel Arnoldus V. Brumby, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York. In 1863 Jim Brumby and several cadet comrades enlisted in the Seventh Georgia cavalry, commanded by Wallis Brumby, Arnoldus Brumby's oldest son.
In 1864 Union general William T. Sherman burned John Brumby's tannery to the ground during the Atlanta campaign, and nineteen-year-old Jim returned home to a devastated landscape. After trying and failing with another tannery business, Jim Brumby enlisted the help of a former slave named Washington and started building barrels by hand to supply nearby flour mills. In 1867 he founded the Marietta Barrel Factory. When flour companies began to use sacks instead of barrels, Jim Brumby bought a hand lathe for $25 at a courthouse auction and experimented with making chairs. He formed a partnership with a friend, Major Henry Myers, but also sent for his younger brother, Thomas, who arrived from Mississippi in 1875. The business began as Brumby and Brother, incorporating in 1884 as the Brumby Chair Company. Jim Brumby retired from the business in 1888.
He married Laura Margaret Smith in 1866, and they had six children. Four years after his first wife's death in 1912, he married Evelyn Holmes. They had no children. Jim Brumby died in Florida in 1934.
When Jim Brumby retired in 1888, his younger brother, Thomas Micajah Brumby, became the second president of the Brumby Chair Company. The tenth child in the family, Thomas Brumby was born in 1852 in Mississippi. He married Mariah Louise Bates in 1874, a year before he joined his brother at the Marietta chair factory. The couple had six sons and one daughter. After his first wife's death in 1923, Thomas married Gertrude Mock shortly before his own death in 1925.
During his thirty-five-year term as president of the Brumby Chair Company, Thomas Brumby made the company one of Marietta's largest employers and one of the Southeast's largest chair factories. The handmade Appalachian red oak rockers with cane seats became standards for two popular southern activities: porch sitting and baby rocking. At the same time, Thomas Brumby was elected to two terms as mayor of Marietta (although he served only one term) and became the first president of the Marietta Electric Company, the forerunner of the Marietta Board of Lights and Water. In addition, he helped to organize the Marietta Bank and Trust Company. He is not to be confused with his cousin Thomas Mason Brumby, Arnoldus Brumby's son and Marietta native who raised the first American flag over Manila, in the Philippines, during the Spanish-American War (1898).
Thomas Micajah Brumby Jr., son of Thomas and Mariah Brumby, was born in Mississippi in 1878 and, like his father and uncle, served as president of the famous chair company. As an infant he traveled with his parents to Marietta in 1878 and, as he grew, gradually learned all aspects of the family business. In 1905 he married Cordelia Inman Gray, daughter of James R. Gray, publisher of the Atlanta Journal; they had four children. After his father's retirement in 1923, Thomas Brumby Jr. took the reins and guided the company through the difficult years of the Great Depression. He too delved into politics, as Marietta councilman and, later, as mayor.
After Thomas Brumby Jr. died in 1938, his brother Robert Eldridge Brumby left his Louisiana law practice to take over the family business. Robert Brumby was born in Marietta in 1883 but left Georgia in the early 1900s to attend Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He married Myrtle Palfrey in 1912, and they had three daughters.
During Robert Brumby's term as president of the Brumby business, World War II (1941-45) shortages hit the company hard—cane in particular became difficult to import from Asia. Robert Brumby and another brother, Otis Arnoldus Brumby, a newspaperman and Brumby Chair Company board member, finally sold the company to an Ohio firm, but they retained the Brumby Chair name and trademark in hopes of one day restarting the factory. After selling the company, Robert Brumby returned to Louisiana, where he died in 1966.
Otis Arnoldus Brumby, the fourth son of Thomas and Mariah Brumby, was born in Marietta in 1889. Like his older brother Robert, he left Georgia to attend Tulane University in New Orleans. After graduating in 1911, he moved to Florida, on a doctor's advice, to mend his poor health. There he became a cub reporter and bought an interest in the fledgling St. Petersburg Times when it went daily. He was on duty as night editor when the story of the sinking Titanic broke in 1912. In 1916 he returned to Marietta to found the Cobb County Times, for which he wrote a column. He became vice president of the Brumby Chair Company in 1936 and married Elisabeth Dobbs, with whom he had a son and a daughter. Their son, Otis Jr., would enter the newspaper business, like his father, and become the fifth president of the Brumby Chair Company.
Asthmatic, and left with a weak heart and partial hearing loss from a childhood bout with scarlet fever, Otis Brumby championed health care for those who could not afford it, and when the Ku Klux Klan burned a black church near his hometown, he began his column,"You, yellow rats." He was elected president of the Georgia Press Association in 1941 and, like the other Brumbys, was politically active; in the 1940s he served in the Georgia House of Representatives and on the Cobb County Board of Education.
In 1951 the Cobb County Times merged with the Marietta Daily Journal, and Otis Brumby took the helm as chairman of the board, serving until his death in 1953.
Otis Arnoldus Brumby Jr. was born in 1940 in Atlanta. He and his wife, Martha Lee Pratt, had five children. Just thirteen when his father died, Otis Jr. got a taste of politics early, working as a page in the 1950s for his cousin, U.S. senator Richard B. Russell Jr. In 1965 he graduated from the University of Georgia law school and began working at the Marietta Daily Journal as assistant to the publisher. Two years later he became publisher. After its merger with the Cobb County Times in 1951, the Marietta Daily Journal's circulation grew from 13,000 to 26,000 in 1983. As of 2006 the newspaper's circulation was approximately 18,500.
In 1969 Otis Brumby Jr. launched the Neighbor Group, which in addition to the Marietta Daily Journal published free weekly community newspapers to serve the Atlanta suburbs. By 1984 the Neighbor newspapers consisted of twenty-seven weekly mastheads, including the Kennesaw Neighbor, the Decatur-DeKalb Neighbor, and the South Fulton Neighbor. Today Brumby's Neighbor newspapers have a total daily circulation of nearly 500,000. In 2004 the Georgia Press Association named the Marietta Daily Journal the best newspaper in the state.
In 1967 Frank and Carole Melson bought a license to produce the Brumby rocker once again, and in 1972 the first Brumby rocker since World War II was manufactured. In the late 1970s U.S. president Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, ordered five Brumby Jumbos for the White House's Truman Balcony. In 1991, when the widowed Carole retired, Otis Brumby Jr. garnered permission from the five living Brumbys to regain the family hold over the Brumby rocker. In 1992 the Brumby Chair Company showroom opened on the square in downtown Marietta, a few blocks from its 1875 factory on Kennesaw Avenue, with Otis Brumby Jr. as the company's fifth president. Wood pieces are turned in a North Carolina factory, but the chairs are assembled and caned by hand in the workshop behind the showroom. Helen Spain Brumby Gregory, the oldest daughter of Otis and Martha, became manager of the Brumby Chair Company in 1998 and the fourth generation of her family to work in the business.
Like his forebears, Otis Brumby Jr. has also been highly active in his community, serving a five-year term on the state's Department of Transportation board, as well as chairing the state Board of Education. He became president of the Georgia Press Association in 1978.
In 2005 Otis Brumby Jr. joined the University of Georgia's newly formed Arch Foundation, after a controversy led the school to cut ties with the UGA Foundation over a dispute about athletic director Vince Dooley's contract and the president's salary. Brumby also took a stand against many in the business community by opposing a 2005 bill in the Georgia House that allowed legislators to court businesses with perks and tax breaks, without public scrutiny.