Portrait of a pioneer
Friends, family remember life of arts advocate

Rebekah Vaughn recalls as a teenager in the early 1990s driving to the old Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts offices on Ga. 138 to help her mother, Paula Vaughn, stuff envelopes with brochures and memberships for the upcoming arts season.

At that time, Paula Vaughn served as the executive director for the CRCA and performed all of the duties for the organization from booking the acts to designing the mailers. It was tireless job but she took it in stride. She had finally accomplished what she set out to do - establish a viable outlet for the arts in Rockdale County.

It took her over a decade of volunteer time to do it. And it would take a dozen more years to grow the CRCA into what it is today - a non-profit arts that offers a line-up of performances such as dramas, comedies, musical theater, and classical music and jazz concerts, along with a preschool pops series and a summer arts camp for children.

"She learned how to write grants and get funding... She learned how to propose ideas and see her vision and get people to give her money for what she wanted to do," said Rebekah. "Everything for her was a learning curve. She learned a lot. She was a very intelligent woman."

Paula Vaughn, known as the backbone of the CRCA, died Friday from complications caused by cancer. She was 60. She is survived by her husband, Alvin Vaughn; children, Alvin, 36, Julia, 34, and Rebekah, 32; two grandchildren, Jake Vaughn and Kaegan Stone; and a host of other family members.

Though Paula Vaughn earned a degree in political science from the University of Georgia, she held a strong interest in the arts. At home, she sewed her children's clothing, creating smocks with decorative stitching, and she often played the guitar and sang to her children. She also kept journals and wrote stories about her life experiences. She involved her children in a variety of arts related activities such as dance, piano, saxophone and photography.

A life-long member of the Conyers Civic League, Paula Vaughn, along with other members, established a children's arts festival in 1979 which continued on annually for a decade. The public event offered performances, from bagpipe players to African dance, as well as music from the local high school jazz bands and art stations where kids could make watercolor paintings or clay pottery.

During the 1980s, Paula Vaughn and handful of other volunteers, under the sponsorship of the Rockdale Chamber of Commerce, created the roots of a non-profit community arts organization which grew into the CRCA by 1989.

Paula knew that businesses, as well as individuals, prefer to establish themselves in a community where the arts thrive, said Judy Mauran, friend and fellow CRCA board member.

"Paula absolutely understood the need for the arts. She had an appreciation of the arts and what they could do for people and she had a good sense of how arts are important to the community and how much it would bring to the community," she said.

Mauran said that Paula Vaughn always proved thorough in her planning and, though she was quiet, people listened when she spoke.

"She was wonderful and sweet but she could be tough as nails when she wanted to be," said Mauran.

Paula Vaughn served as the executive director of the CRCA for three years in the 1990s and took a hiatus from the organization in 1996 when she began to advocate for the arts on the state level. She served on the boards of the Georgia Assembly of Community Arts, the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund and the Georgia Council for the Arts, where she helped found a grassroots arts program.

She also earned a degree in Web page design from Oglethorpe University in 2001 and proceeded to donate her newly honed skills to build Web pages for the CRCA and her church, Conyers First United Methodist Church.

Paula Vaughn returned to the CRCA as a volunteer in the late 1990s and continued to nurture the organization until 2005 when she became president of the CRCA board. During the 1990s, the CRCA also found a new home at 910 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers, thanks to financial support from the Vaughn family. Paula Vaughn obtained grant money for the CRCA and eventually helped convince the city and county to contribute to the CRCA budget.

"Paula was the brains behind the operation, but she was very shy to take the credit. She was very humble," said friend and fellow CRCA board member Bonnie Powell. "If Paula hadn't been there, I don't know who would have done it. The arts that are in this county are a direct result of the groundwork that she laid. She was a silent driving force."

Powell described Paula Vaughn as an extremely organized person and an excellent researcher. If Paula Vaughn didn't know the answer to a question, she'd find out, said Powell.

"The arts world has certainly lost an important player in Rockdale County," said Powell.