Edwin D. Spivia, 78, of Gainesville, Georgia passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, on Saturday July 27, 2019 after a long battle with Lewy Body Dementia. Ed is best known for putting the State of Georgia on the map as a great location for filmmakers and as a favorite destination for millions of tourists from all over the country and the world.
Known by many as “Big Ed,” he was born in Murphy, North Carolina on June 6, 1941. After attending Young Harris College he became a radio announcer at WCVP and WKRK radio stations in Murphy. In 1965 Ed moved to Atlanta becoming a traffic and then news reporter for WGST Radio. At age 25, Ed’s interview with Julian Bond – newly elected to the George House of Representatives – led to the House voting not to seat Bond and, ultimately, the courts supporting Bond being seated, thrusting Bond into the national spotlight and Ed into Georgia journalism history.
In 1968, Ed went to work for the State of Georgia Department of Industry and Trade where, after visiting the “Deliverance” film site he conceived the idea of Georgia becoming a desirable location for movie and television producers. He presented this concept to then Governor Jimmy Carter who chose Ed to develop the Georgia Film Commission, luring film production to the state as part of his economic development initiative. The effort began in earnest in 1972, and in the next 10 years, over 200 films were produced in Georgia, including box office blockbusters like “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Conrak,” “The Longest Yard” and “The Big Chill.”
Carter then asked Ed to head up the Georgia Tourism Division where the successful marketing phrase “Georgia, for Good Time or a Lifetime” and the Georgia peach State logo were created. During his seven-year tenure, Ed developed the concept of promoting the different regions of Georgia, eliminating Georgia communities competing against each other for tourists. This innovative approach increased the State’s tourism budget three fold and resulted in Georgia moving from 27th in tourism revenue and visitation nationally to 7th and second only to Florida in the southeast.
Ed’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to the Lakewood Fairgrounds in downtown Atlanta with the idea of developing the property to include a major film studio. In 1983, former Macon Mayor Buck Melton and Macon businessman Ben Porter formed Filmworks, USA with Ed as president. Filmworks owned a 50-year lease on the Lakewood site and created what became the nationally acclaimed Lakewood Antiques Market, bringing thousands of shoppers and dealers monthly into the beautiful historic fairground buildings. Through his contacts at Universal Studios, Ed convinced Universal to build the 18,000 seat Lakewood Amphitheatre on the site which became a major entertainment venue.
In 2006 Ed worked closely with the City of Atlanta as they repurchased the lease. Today the site houses EUE Screen Gems Studios of New York, one of the premier movie production facilities in the country.
Ed and his wife, Barbara – along with Ed’s long-time friend and business associate Diane Dominick – moved the antiques market to Cumming, which immediately became the highly popular, thriving Lakewood 400 Antiques Market with over 200 dealers. Ed’s two sons, Rhett and Greg, became partners in the business in December 2018.
Although Ed considered himself retired from the film industry, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue reached out to him in 2006 to help redouble the effort to entice film producers to the state. He asked Ed to chair the newly formed Georgia Film Video and Music Advisory Commission. Along with Shay Griffin, Ric Reitz and Wilbur Fitzgerald, Ed spearheaded the effort to pass a package of incentives through the Georgia State Legislature. This effort has culminated in Georgia being in the top three film, video and music production states in the country.
Ed’s board memberships included the Georgia Hospitality and Travel Association, Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, Travel South USA (chair), Georgia Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, American Diabetes Association of Georgia, Georgia Press Association Associates (President). In 2017, Ed received the Georgia Entertainment Gala & Awards “Outstanding Contribution to the Georgia Entertainment Industry” award. And in 2010, the Georgia Production Partnership recognized Ed “for his incomparable leadership and support of the Georgia Entertainment Industry.”
Despite his highly touted contributions to Georgia’s culture and economy, Ed himself claimed his finest accomplishments were his three children, his marriage to Barbara and their blended family. He loved nothing more than spending time with them, especially on Lake Lanier.
It has been said that when a man’s stories are remembered, he is considered immortal. With too many stories left to tell, Ed and his piercing blue eyes, beautiful smile and charismatic personality will certainly live on in the hearts of all who knew and loved him
Ed was preceded in death by his parents, Mildred Graves and Edwin Spivia and his stepfather, Burton Graves. He is survived by his wife of 17 years, Barbara Black Spivia, sons Rhett (Paula) and Greg (Amy) and daughter Cole; stepsons Philip Beegle (Jennifer), Brian Beegle and Kevin Beegle; grandchildren Tara, Brandon, Kamryn, Philip IV and Jackson plus great grandchildren Ava and Landon; sister Nancy (Spivia) Anderson, (Clay), brothers Ronnie Graves (Pat) and David Graves (Jill) and a host of nieces and nephews.
The family is most grateful to Ed’s amazing caregivers, Linda Griffin and Mary Ellen Sperry. They faithfully supported Barbara in her effort to fulfill Ed’s desire to die at home, in his bed, looking at the lake with his family and his dogs, Trouper and Dusty, around him.
The family will hold a private celebration of Ed’s life.
Donations can be made in Ed’s honor to
Lewy Body Dementia Association
912 Killian Hill Road, SW
Lilburn, GA 30047
Ingram Funeral Home & Crematory, 210 Ingram Ave, Cumming, GA 30040 is in charge of arrangements.