By Louis Mayeux
On a balmy spring afternoon, North Buckhead Civic Association President Gordon Certain delicately pilots his Toyota Prius over a narrow bridge and stops at a lovely spot at Little Nancy Creek Park.
“A developer wanted to build eight McMansions here; it’s flood plain,” Certain said, looking toward the park’s grassy meadows and towering pine trees just off congested Peachtree Dunwoody Road.
In a brief walk, he proudly points out picnic benches recently constructed by Boy Scouts and sun-dappled grass planted by volunteers.
During 10 years as the NBCA’s president, Certain has led the long-established civic group to new levels of success. Once known for its intense, ultimately unsuccessful, opposition to the Ga. 400 extension, the group under Certain has boosted its membership, carried out an impressive number of infrastructure improvements and played a major role in zoning, crime, recreation and education issues.
Certain is a visionary who can look at odd-shaped or abandoned pieces of land and see parks — the neighborhood has added 30 acres of green space during his term. He’s also a facilitator of other’s dreams. And, he’s a consensus builder — the Little Nancy Creek project, for instance, was jointly developed with the Brookhaven Civic Association.
Along with his ability to see the big picture, Certain is also a intensely detail-oriented analyst of data.
Following the Little Nancy Creek tour, he unveiled to a visitor a report containing disturbing statistics: 86 percent of cars exceeded the speed limit in the area of the new Sarah Smith Intermediate School on Wieuca Road during peak student transit times. The readings from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. came from a NCBA radar unit stationed near the school. A total of 27 percent of the cars were going at least 35. From the minimum violation of 26 mph, the highest speed recorded was 57.
With the Wieuca data, Certain is pressuring the city to complete promised safety features near the school.
Crime issues are one of his interests. He’s pinpointed upon an Atlanta map crimes committed during 2008 in every area of the city. The map shows that North Buckhead has the lowest crime rate in the city. “But you have to pay attention,” he said.
Certain always seems to pay attention, responding quickly with mass e-mails to reports of lost dogs and breakins and publishing an informative newsletter.
Retiring after 31 years in the Lockheed business systems department, Certain developed the NCBA website in 1998 and also served as the group’s treasurer.
“I’m not a very social person, but I’m good at building the infrastructure of an organization so that it works and accomplishes things and brings people in,” he said. “We have wonderful people doing wonderful things.”
During his term, the NBCA membership has doubled to 700 residences and 50 businesses. “We went through the recession with virtually no loss of membership,” he said.
A few years into his term as chairman, Certain survived a life-threatening health crisis, overcoming liver cancer.
He was about to undergo liver transplant surgery in 2004 at Emory University Hospital when doctors discovered the non-cancerous part of his liver was healthy, without cirrhosis or hepatitis. So, the surgeons took out two-thirds of the organ, leaving the rest to regenerate itself, and gave the liver that was to have been transplanted into Certain to another patient.
Certain, who could physically tell when his liver had fully regenerated, said his type of cancer has an 8 percent survival rate: 1 out of 12 makes it. “I’m living for 11 other people,” he said.
Certain is now negotiating with the Georgia Department of Transportation and the city of Atlanta to get oversight of land beneath the Ga. 400 overpass to develop parks. At the Mountain Way overpass, he foresees a playground and dog trot area.
“You float 10 ideas, and maybe one works,” he said.