Marion Eugene Costello

March 17, 1938March 2, 2019

Marion Eugene Costello, Jr. (1938-2019)

Those who knew M.E. Costello’s affinity for organizing and making detailed lists—especially lots of goals every New Year’s—would not be surprised that he wrote his own obituary. Trouble is, it read like a resume and did not capture the humor and goodness of the man—husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend, businessman, and all around outstanding person—whose life is celebrated by those who knew him.

When M.E. fell three years ago, his spirit and attitude never wavered. If anything, he loved and laughed harder than before. At a time when his life could have abruptly ended, he worked hard to engage more deeply with his sons—as they did with him. Whether listening to music, from Frank Sinatra to Van Morrison, playing checkers or working crosswords, the essence of the man held firm and shone through in his smile.

Just one week before he died, when he was unable to attend his youngest son’s wedding in New Orleans, M.E. dressed in a kilt—like the rest of the clan—and joined in on Skype. Proud to serve as best man, he and Lawton, the groom, made eye contact on an iPad throughout the ceremony and shared words afterward that Lawton will carry with him for the rest of his life.

M.E. Costello, 80, died at home on March 2 surrounded by his wife, Lilla, four sons—Drew, George, Jon and Lawton—and extended family and loved ones. He had been in declining health since that bad fall.

He was known to be a man of integrity, kindness and sound values. His tastes were rooted in his Southern upbringing—Vienna sausage, pimento cheese, potted meat, and inedible fruit cake during the holidays—yet he loved maps and would pour for hours over the National Geographic World Atlas full of stories of where he’d been and plotting the next adventure. He was equally comfortable in Pawley’s Island, Highlands, and Jackson Hole, where the family had a home, and as a world traveler, to Africa, Argentina, the Galapagos, and Patagonia.

M.E. was an accomplished and consummate businessman though he might bellow “Hey! Hoo!” across a banquet hall of party-goers to let friends know how happy he was to see them. He was an avid-if-not-great fly fisherman who took delight in dry flies, especially Fat Alberts, Chernobyl ants and Turks tarantulas on the South Fork and Snake rivers. He loved a good Dewar’s and water, any UNC victory, Undaunted Courage (and other stories of history and moving biographies), appreciated every moment, friend and family member and always took time to show gratitude.

In 1976, Lilla Calhoun Olmstead from Savannah, flew to Myrtle Beach to interview with M.E. for a job. Though she had no resume to speak of, she had something that led M.E. to tell his colleagues he would marry her. Lilla, not wanting to overwhelm him with too much reality, introduced her three boys from an earlier marriage one at a time. While a lesser man might have run at the prospect, M.E. was undaunted and, six months after that interview, he lovingly took them all on, adding a fourth boy years later. Among the life-long lessons he taught them all are: “Patience is a virtue;” “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all;” “Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution;” “Always tell the truth, then you will never have to worry about what you said.”

Marion Eugene Costello, Jr. was the son of Marion Eugene Costello and Winona Carrie Roberson Costello, born on March 17th, 1938 at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. The family soon moved to Roanoke, Virginia where M.E. grew up with his sister, Winnie; a cadre of good buddies, “Red,” “Dollar Bill,” “Bobby,” and “Stuie;” and his faithful dog, Spot. He was on the honor roll throughout Jefferson High School, and though small in stature, he was an energetic athlete and was recognized as an outstanding football player in the 115-pound division.

M.E. graduated with a degree in economics from the University of North Carolina, where he was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and a secret society, The Order of Gimghoul. He was commissioned as a LTJG in the U.S. Navy and served two tours in the Mediterranean. He then earned his MBA at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and was one of two in his graduating class to be selected for Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership society.

After stints in banking, real estate development, and sports management in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. (where he managed tennis star Arthur Ashe until his death), M.E. moved his family to Atlanta where he and his business partner and close friend, Ellison Thomas, formed The Arbor Company in 1984 to develop and operate senior living communities. He was very much hands on and engaged the staff with his charm and loving spirit, always calling each by name and recalling details about their shared stories. The Atlanta-based company now operates more than 40 independent living, assisted living and memory care communities in 11 states and is widely recognized for high quality senior housing and services.

While President of Arbor, M.E. became the founder and president of the Senior Living Association of Georgia and the Assisted Living Federation of Georgia. He also served as Treasurer and Director of the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Midtown Business Association. He was a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Atlanta and the Piedmont Driving Club.

Known as M.E., M, Costy, Marion, Napoleon, and Papa, his legacy will live on through his devoted family. He is survived by his wife, Lilla Calhoun Costello, from Savannah, to whom he was devoted for 43 years; and his four sons: Drew Olmstead (Susan) and George Olmstead (Kathy) of Atlanta; Jon Olmstead (Jill) of Washington, D.C.; and Lawton Costello (Sammar) of Atlanta. He and Lilla have five grandchildren: Lowell (who passed, at age 19, on December 16, 2018), Nate, Nick, Gigi and Julian. He was predeceased by his sister, Winnie Roberson Costello Hamer. He is also survived by his brother-in-law, John Hamer, of Southern Pines, N.C.; niece, Laurie Ann Hamer Adams, of Raleigh; and nephew, Scott Hamer of Boston.

A celebration of M.E.’s life will be held Friday, March 15, at the Piedmont Driving Club, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests the Sierra Club, or the Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center,


  • Memorial Service Friday, March 15, 2019

Marion Eugene Costello

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Mark Forsling

March 9, 2019

Lilla, I enjoyed working with M.E. when I was a young attorney at Schreeder, Wheeler and Flint. He was energetic and resourceful and always a gentleman. I know you will miss him greatly. God be with you and your family.