Coach George A. Atkins was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1932. He began playing football at Shades Cahaba High School and spent his senior year at Shades Valley High School. He earned a walk-on football scholarship in the fall of 1949 from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn University. The freshmen team that year was especially strong, and often defeated the varsity in practice. Coach Earl Brown was relieved of his coaching duties in 1950 after the varsity failed to win a game. Atkins then played under the leadership of Coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan and participated in the rebuilding of the Auburn football program. Following the football season of 1954, he was drafted by the Detroit Lions, earned a first team offensive guard position, and played one year in the NFL. In late summer of 1955, Coach Jordan offered him a coaching position at Auburn, a life time dream for him. He had a reputation for being a demanding coach, but also a caring one. Three times he rode an ambulance carrying one his injured players from a stadium locker room to a hospital and sat up all night with one of them until the player’s parents could be contacted and arrive at the hospital. Atkins served on the Auburn football staff until 1972, when he accepted a job in Birmingham. Although he left the Auburn staff, he remained close to his former players, who enjoyed sharing stories about his coaching career.
When the major Auburn Generations capital fund raising campaign began in Birmingham, he was asked to help, and for the rest of his career he raised money for Auburn University. He was most proud of his work raising funds or the construction of the Draughon Library, a challenge because the library had no organized alumni as departments, schools and colleges did. He retired from Auburn in 1995.
He married Leah Marie Rawls in 1954, and they had four children, Tim, Brian (who also earned an Auburn football scholarship), Laura Leigh, and Jack. They shared thirteen grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. George died in January 2015.
Leah Marie Rawls was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1935. She fell in love with Auburn in January 1943, when she visited her cousin, a student at API, and slept on her study desk. She entered Auburn in 1953, and married her high school sweetheart, George, the next year. Leah continued her Auburn education, eventually earning three Auburn degrees. She taught history at Auburn as a graduate student and an instructor, and when her family moved to Birmingham, she taught at UAB for one term, and twelve years at Samford University. She served on the Auburn Alumni Board for one term and was the founding director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities at Pebble Hill in 1985.
When Auburn’s female athletes requested an overall award for best student athlete to match the male Walter Gilbert Award, which had been presented for decades, the Faculty Athletic Committee requested that her name be used for the award because of her career in water skiing tournaments. She won numerous national, world, and international titles. In 1976, she was the first woman inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. She has continued her love for Alabama history by writing numerous articles and books, some of them about Auburn University.