Edwin D. Spivia, 78, of Gainesville, Ga., passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, July 27, 2019 after a long battle with Lewy Body Dementia. He is best known for putting Georgia on the map for filmmakers and as a favorite destination for millions of tourists.
Known by many as “Big Ed,” he was born in Murphy, N.C., June 6, 1941. After attending Young Harris College he became a radio announcer at WCVP and WKRK radio stations in Murphy. In 1965, Mr. Spivia moved to Atlanta becoming a traffic and news reporter for WGST Radio.
At age 25, his interview with newly elected state Rep. Julian Bond led to the House refusing to seat the young legislator, and then, ultimately, the courts supporting Bond. The incident thrust Bond into the national spotlight and Mr. Spivia into Georgia journalism history.
In 1968, Mr. Spivia began work for the Georgia Department of Industry and Trade, where, after visiting the “Deliverance” film site, he conceived of making Georgia a prime location for movie and television producers. He presented the concept to then Gov. Jimmy Carter who chose him to develop the Georgia Film Commission, to lure film production to the state. The effort began in earnest in 1972, and within 10 years, over 200 films were produced in Georgia, including blockbusters like “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Big Chill.”
Mr. Spivia was then asked 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, he promoted the different regions of Georgia, eliminating the practice of communities competing against each other for tourists. This approach increased the state’s tourism budget three-fold and resulted in Georgia moving from 27th in tourism revenue and visitation nationally to 7th — second only to Florida in the Southeast.
Mr. Spivia’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to the Lakewood Fairgrounds in Atlanta to develop the property to include a major film studio. In 1983, former Macon Mayor Buck Melton and Macon businessman Ben Porter formed Filmworks, USA. Mr. Spivia was named president. Filmworks owned a 50-year lease on the Lakewood site and created what became the nationally acclaimed Lakewood Antiques Market. Through his contacts at Universal Studios, Mr. Spivia convinced Universal to build the 18,000-seat Lakewood Amphitheatre on the site.
In 2006, he worked with the City of Atlanta as they repurchased the lease. Today the site houses EUE Screen Gems Studios of New York, one of the country’s premier movie production facilities.
Ed Spivia and his wife, Barbara, and long-time friend and business associate Diane Dominick, moved the antiques market to Cumming, where it became the thriving Lakewood 400 Antiques Market with over 200 dealers. Mr. Spivia’s two sons, Rhett and Greg, became partners in the business in December 2018.
Though retired from the film industry, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue reached out to Mr. Spivia in 2006 to revive efforts to entice film producers to the state, asking him to chair the newly formed Georgia Film Video and Music Advisory Commission. The panel ed the effort to pass an incentives package through the Georgia Legislature, helping make Georgia among the top three film, video and music production states in the country today.
Mr. Spivia served on boards of 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 and Georgia Press Association Associates (president).
In 2017, he received the Georgia Entertainment Gala & Awards “Outstanding Contribution to the Georgia Entertainment Industry” award.
Mr. Spivia, 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.
When a man’s stories are remembered, it is said he is considered immortal. With too many stories left to tell, “Big Ed,” and his piercing blue eyes, beautiful smile and charismatic personality will live on in the hearts of all who knew him.
Ed Spivia 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); daughter Cole; stepsons Philip Beegle (Jennifer), Brian Beegle and Kevin Beegle; sister, Nancy (Spivia) Anderson (Clay); brothers, Ronnie Graves (Pat) and David Graves (Jill); a host of nieces and nephews, five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
The family expressed gratitude to Mr. Spivia’s caregivers, Linda Griffin and Mary Ellen Sperry, who supported Barbara in her effort to fulfill her husband’s desire to die at home, in his bed, looking at the lake with his family and his dogs around him. The family will hold a private celebration of his life.
Donations can be made in Mr. Spivia’s honor to
Lewy Body Dementia Association
912 Killian Hill Road, SW
Lilburn, GA 30047