If you want to change an entrenched power structure, you’ve got to be willing to take on a few bullies and write a whole new playbook. That’s what I’ve done my entire career.”
– Teresa Tomlinson
In January 2019, Teresa Tomlinson finished her second highly successful term as the first woman Mayor and Public Safety Director of Columbus, Georgia. As mayor, Tomlinson was the chief elected official of Georgia’s second largest city. She led Columbus through a time of innovative transformation, shaking up the status quo to deliver results for its citizens. She revitalized blighted and under-utilized neighborhoods, improved city services, reformed its budget in the face of declining revenues, dramatically reduced crime, increased citizen engagement and set a vision for unprecedented vibrancy. Thanks to her leadership, Columbus earned a spot as one of the top 25 Best Run Cities in America.
Teresa is an 8th generation Georgian with roots all over the state. She spent the first half of her life in Atlanta, where she graduated from Chamblee High School, and the second half in Columbus, Georgia. Growing up, she spent summers and holidays visiting family on a small farm in central South Georgia and owns an old mountain farmhouse in rural north Georgia with her husband, Trip.
Teresa and her sister Tonya attribute their strong start in life to their parents. Their mother grew up in rank poverty in South Georgia and dropped out of Moultrie High School at the age of 16, when she married her husband and went to care for his elderly parents while he finished his military service in Guam. Teresa’s mom worked in a grocery store and helped put her husband through college. Teresa’s mom proudly worked that blue-collar, union-fortified job her entire life. Her parents found each other young and built a life from very little.
After attending Sweet Briar College in Virginia, Teresa attended Emory Law School. She got her start as a young lawyer, where she was often the only woman in a courtroom full of men her father’s age. She didn’t know how things had always been done, so she came up with new and better ways to get results. She took on cases against some of the most powerful corporations in the country, from big banks that took advantage of the vulnerable and insecure to taking on a chemical conglomerate that allowed pesticides to destroy farmlands. Her success in delivering for her clients in many battles quickly earned the respect of her peers and she became the first female partner of their firm.
She moved to Columbus in 1994 from Atlanta and married Wade “Trip” Tomlinson, a Columbus native, several years later. Teresa continued her career specializing in complex litigation until 2006 when she became Executive Director of MidTown, Inc., a non-profit community renewal organization. Here again, Teresa wasn’t satisfied with the way things had always been done. She disrupted the status quo, brought people of different economic and social backgrounds together to revitalize blighted neighborhoods and rebuild the community. This service eventually led her to run for Mayor, where she could achieve even greater results for Columbus.
In 2015, after the startling announcement of the potential closure of her undergraduate alma mater, Sweet Briar College in Virginia, Tomlinson helped lead an effort to save the college, raising $28.5 million in 110 days. She delivered the 2015 Commencement Speech, thought to be the College’s last; but, instead, the speech became an endorsement for liberal arts education, an indictment of the failed leadership of the past and a rallying point for the effort to save the college. She later became the chair of the newly convened board and served from 2015 to 2018.
Teresa Tomlinson is on leave from the law firm Hall Booth Smith, where she is a partner who specializes in complex litigation, crisis management and strategic solutions.