Few Georgia Tech alumni can boast a relationship with the Institute that is as long and strong as John Weitnauer’s.
As a Decatur boy, Weitnauer volunteered in the Army Air Force in 1943, but was not called up until 1944. Between 1943 and 1944, he attended Georgia Tech.
After the war ended, Weitnauer returned home — and to Georgia Tech, graduating in 1949. A year later, after graduation, he began working as an industrial engineer at Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills in Atlanta, where he worked for five years.
A mimeographed sheet of job postings, courtesy of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association, led Weitnauer to Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta and a rising career, which would culminate in his position as executive vice president. Weitnauer’s career trajectory then took him to Richway Discount Stores, a chain of 31 stores in the Southeast, where he retired 30 years later as chairman.
Retirement, for Weitnauer, has been more about committee and board chairs than rocking chairs. Both before and after retirement, Weitnauer’s accomplishments include:
- Director and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
- General campaign chairman and president of United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta
- Chairman of Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of American Red Cross
- Served on the Boards of Columbia Theological Seminary and Agnes Scott College
“I’ve also served on several business boards, including the John H. Harland Co., where I was interim chairman and CEO,” Weitnauer said.
Through the years, Weitnauer’s connection to Georgia Tech grew stronger. He met the loves of his life through Georgia tech connections: Peggy, his first wife, from whom he was widowed after 49 years of marriage, and June, from whom he was widowed after 16 years of marriage. He still gets together regularly with lifelong friends from his fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega and Georgia Tech. And he has given his time and energy in a number of capacities as an active alumnus and received many distinguished awards from the Institute (see sidebar).
“Someone told me that as emeriti, you can’t participate in the discussions, but you can still come to the meetings and eat and drink all you want — I don’t think I have missed a meeting since,” Weitnauer said, with a laugh.
His recent estate commitment to Georgia Tech, to establish a chair in the School of Industrial Systems and Engineering, is one more way to give back to a school that he feels has given him so much.
“Chairs enhance the reputation of Georgia Tech and help the school attract and retain distinguished faculty,” he said. “And that’s going to have a positive impact on the students.”
One of Weitnauer’s hobbies — to “keep me out of trouble,” he says — is turning wooden bowls, which is also a fitting metaphor for turning out a Georgia Tech student.
“A piece of wood is like a person,” he points out. “When you first see them, you don’t really know what’s on the inside. Then you start working with them and soon you find out what’s on the inside, what the color really is and the grain, and what’s going to happen with that person or that piece of wood.”