Benjamin James Tarbutton, Jr., 1930-2020

Written by Andrew Corselli, Managing Editor
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Benjamin James Tarbutton, Jr. passed away on June 9 at the age of 90. Tarbutton had a lifelong career with the Sandersville Railroad Company, his family’s short line railroad business, which is now 127 years old. He worked there for 65 years until the time of his death, serving as President, Vice President and Director.

Born March 20, 1930, he was the son of the late Benjamin James Tarbutton and the late Rosa McMaster Tarbutton. A lifelong resident of Sandersville, Ga., Tarbutton graduated from Sandersville High School in 1947. He was an Eagle Scout and attended the Boy Scout International Jamboree in Paris, France in 1947.

Tarbutton attended Oxford College and graduated from Emory University in 1951 with a BA in Economics and was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Navy from 1952-1955 during the Korean War, attaining the rank of Lt. j.g.

Tarbutton then returned home and embarked upon his rail career. As part of his long and illustrious railroad career, he served as a director of the American Short Line Railroad Association (ASLRRA) and Founder and President of the Georgia Railroad Association. Tarbutton co-founded B-H Transfer Company in 1971. He also was actively involved in managing his timberland holdings.

In 1964, Tarbutton married the former Nancy Anne Rankin of Atlanta. They had three children, Anne, Rosa and Ben III, during their 56-year marriage.

Tarbutton was an advocate for his state and community, and gave countless hours working to bring new industry and jobs to Washington County. He was a director of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce for many years and was honored as Washington County’s Citizen of the Year in 1992. He was a director of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce from 1962 until his death and served as Chamber president from 1975-1977.

Recognizing the importance of education in his community and state, Tarbutton focused much of his time and energy on advancing educational causes. Many institutions benefited from his wisdom and generosity. He was a founding director of Brentwood School in Sandersville and was a driving force behind the creation of the Rosa M. Tarbutton Memorial Library. He served on the board of trustees of Wesleyan College and Oxford College. A dedicated Emory alumnus, Tarbutton served on the Emory University Board of Trustees from 1976 –2000 and was an emeritus trustee at the time of his death. In 1997, he received the Emory Medal, the highest alumni award conferred by the university.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to education in Georgia came in his role as board member of the Technical College System of Georgia. Appointed in 1993 by Governor Zell Miller, Mr. Tarbutton served on the board for 25 years, helping to guide the agency during a time of huge expansion in the technical college system. In 2007, he was honored as an outstanding technical college board member with the inaugural Breeden Award.

Tarbutton was instrumental in locating Sandersville Technical College (now Oconee Fall Line Technical College) in Washington County, as well as securing funding for its health science building. In 2013, the school honored his 25 years of service and his many contributions to the technical college system when they named the Business and Industry Training Center after him.

Tarbutton served on many other Georgia public and corporate boards, including the State Board of Natural Resources and Industry and Trade, C&S National Bank, NationsBank of Georgia and AGL Resources. He was a member of many clubs, including the Piedmont Driving Club, the Oglethorpe Club, the North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati, Society of Colonial Wars, the St. Andrews Society of Savannah, Gridiron Society and the Sandersville Lions Club.

A devoted and beloved husband, father and grandfather, Tarbutton is survived by his wife, Nancy, his three children: Anne Tarbutton Mori and her husband, John, of Atlanta; Rosa Tarbutton Sumter and her husband, Neal, of Atlanta; and Ben Tarbutton III and his wife, Betsy, of Sandersville; and seven grandchildren: Rankin and John Mori, Sadye and Fritz Sumter, and Ben IV, Annabeth and Henry Tarbutton. He is also survived by a brother-in-law, Vance Rankin III. He was pre-deceased by his brother, Hugh McMaster Tarbutton.

The ASLRRA released the following statement:

“We are sad to share the passing of Mr. Benjamin Tarbutton, Jr. He spent his career with the Sandersville Railroad Company, his family’s short line railroad business, which is now 127 years old. He worked there for 65 years until the time of his death, serving as President, Vice President and Director. As part of his long and illustrious railroad career, he served as a Director of the American Shortline Railroad Association and founder and president of the Georgia Railroad Association. Mr. Tarbutton co-founded B-H Transfer Company in 1971. He also was actively involved in managing his timberland holdings.

“His son, Ben Tarbutton, III, President, Sandersville Railroad Company, is a member of our Board of Directors.”

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