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Tracey Mason: Delivering On a Legacy of Compassion and Commitment to Gwinnett

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She was twelve when she earned her first hundred-dollar bill—the summer her uncle hired her to fill in as a receptionist for a week. Tracey Mason recalls the memory vividly, warmth and affection infusing her words. “I thought I’d pass out when I saw it. I’d never laid eyes on a hundred-dollar bill before, and for the longest time, I kept it safe, not having the heart to spend it.”

Mason, the eldest of three girls, lived with her family in a home close to where 124 meets 78, now called Jason D. Mason Intersection, named after her father.

By the time she hit sixteen, she—like most girls her age—was itching to get behind the wheels of her own car. That’s when her dad tapped on the proverbial brakes to lay down the rules: “If you’re old enough to drive,” he told Mason, “You’re old enough to work.” And so she did. For a while, Mason tended to calls at the respective businesses owned by her father and uncles. It would be her uncle Harvie Ewing who handed her the first Benjamin she’d ever laid eyes on.

At one point, Ewing was considered one of the biggest landowners in the county. A generous man, he helped Mason’s father and uncle get started, selling them lots that they could develop and sell.

Under the guidance and provision of Ewing and her father, Mason learned about work ethic, compassion, and treating people with care and respect. “Everything we were taught was taught by action more than by words. It was rarely talked about—it was always modeled.”

In fact, her family, particularly her father, played a great role in shaping Mason’s life—and they weren’t just any ordinary family, either.

Setting stepping stones for Gwinnett

With roots planted deeply in Gwinnett for several generations past, the Masons made the county their home at a time its population boasted less than 40,000—more than twenty times less than what it is today. By the time Mason was born, she was already the family’s ninth-generation Gwinnettian.

Her family’s long-time reputation in the county coupled with the prestigious Rockefeller name, affiliated with them through Mason’s great grandmother, made the Mason name an esteemed one.

However, her father and uncles were no less in molding their own reputations as powerful and instrumental influencers of the county back in the 70s. Together, these men poured a lifetime of energy, effort and work behind developing, buffing and shaping Gwinnett into what it ultimately became.

Mason recalls her father stepping up to the plate and running for house. “One of the first pieces of legislation he got passed in the 70s was for a five-district county commission,” she says.

Even more distinctly, she remembers his noticeable absences from home during legislative sessions. “I was always a daddy’s girl and I remember asking him, ‘Why do you have to do it, daddy? Why does it have to be you? He’d kind of give me this look and say, ‘God almighty, Tracey. Somebody with some sense has got to!’”

And her uncle Wayne Mason, was no less of a success. A real estate tycoon, he left his own imprint on the county, preparing it for long-term growth before many others then had the foresight to do so.

“Uncle Wayne got his nose out of joint one day because he turned on the shower and hardly any water came through the shower head,” Mason laughs. “He’d always say, ‘You can’t get anything but a trickle down here in the south, but up north, they’re getting blown away by water pressure.’ So he ran for the county commission, got elected, and went on to become chairman of the commission. That’s when he tapped into his resources and got the county some water.”

Mason says her uncle was always sharp—a man who understood that in any civilization, the power always manifests itself where the water is. When he finally got the approval for water, he didn’t arrange for the standard 8-16” water pipes to place it in. Instead, he contracted to have 48” water mains crisscrossing throughout the county to support its water needs.

At the time, people questioned his logic, asking, “Why such big pipes? There are only so many people here.” But her uncle was already thinking into the future, preparing for growth and putting into play the right infrastructure to support it. In fact, he was also one of the key individuals who helped get a tap successfully installed into Lake Lanier.

“The people who helped create Gwinnett always put the county’s interests over their personal ones,” says Mason. That’s key, she believes, to why Gwinnett has grown to become one of the greatest, largest counties in the state. “Demographically, Gwinnett has changed a lot from when I was growing up,” Mason says. “But I love the diversity and the different cultures I see around us today, even at the courthouse, and I love hearing the different stories people share about who they are and where they come from.”

Taking a cue from history

Mason takes pride in her predecessors’ involvement in the county. And growing up in the periphery of their accomplishments is what helped give rise to her own ambitions. She says her father found every opportunity to emulate great values as he worked to make Gwinnett great, but also took time to urge his daughters to flourish into strong, ambitious, independent women. One day, he rounded them up, telling them, “Remember, there are three of you. With the divorce rate where it is, statistics say one of you will end up divorced. And even if you don’t get divorced, there’s no guarantee your husband won’t get run over by a train, so you better be ready to take care of yourselves.”

His words grew deep seated in Mason’s mind, and not for a second did she question his insight.

“He was smart,” she says. “He’d read somewhere that women were making as much money as men in law, which was a huge deal. The same couldn’t be said of other professions.”

When he shared this fact with her, Mason was already considering studying law.

By the time she was a junior in high school, Mason had already gotten her first taste of the profession at Webb, Fowler & Tanner, a law office formerly located off Lucky Street in Lawrenceville.

By fall, Mason was already applying to colleges. Immediately, she was accepted into the University of North Carolina.

Every chance she got, throughout spring and summer college breaks, Mason kept returning to Webb, Fowler & Tanner. But as senior year of college was wrapping up, she felt anxious to get to work rather than return to school again to study law.

Life had different plans. That spring, Mason fell in love—and got married. She continued working after marriage, first at Honeywell as a sales engineer and then at American Express.

Four years after marrying, Mason learned she was pregnant with her eldest daughter, Macy. After Macy was born, she quit her job to focus on her new family. A few months later when she was finally getting in the swing of long, sleepless nights and midnight feedings, life presented yet another surprise—she was pregnant again, this time with her youngest daughter, Caitlin.

“It was very different to go from someone who had worked for as long as I could remember to being a stay-at-home mom,” Mason admits. “I respect everybody who does it. It’s tough and important work.”

Between diaper changes, baby laundry and the occasional power nap, several years passed in the blink of an eye. Her kids were four and the three when Leslie Seta, a close friend of Mason’s who’s now one minute down the street from her at Speed, Seta, Martin & Trivett, LLC, told her she’d gotten into law school.

I remember telling her, “Daddy told me I should go to law school too.”

Leslie immediately pounced on the idea, prodding her to apply.

“I had my doubts,” Mason admits. “I was thirty years old, hadn’t been to school in eight years or so and wasn’t even sure if I could manage going back.” After all, she now also had two young kids to consider.

Her mother was a critical support for the family, watching the kids while Mason spent endless nights and long hours studying for her LSATs and applying to colleges. Finally, her efforts paid off and she was accepted into Georgia State University (GSU) College of Law.

The following years were a hazy blur as Mason tried to find the sweet balance between family time and study time. She recalls nights she’d snuggle into bed with her eldest, deciphering heavy textbooks while her daughter sat staring fascinated at the colorful pages of bedtime stories and fairytales.

As a law student, Mason tackled the opportunity to work at the GSU tax clinic, where she helped with post-audit disputes for people who didn’t have the means or resources to afford an attorney. She tried the clinic’s first tax case, which involved a tax fraud claim—and won.

That’s when Mason fell in love a second time, this time with the passion of serving people. “My love for the law is people driven,” she says. “I was just looking for a way to help people, and that’s exactly what it empowered me do.”

Finding passion in work

Delving deeper into exploring ways she could put her knowledge to use for the benefit of others, Mason discovered the influential role a good mediator could play in resolving disputes for families with children.

Determined, she went to work, spending many years of her career as a mediator and guardian at litem to help divorced parents sort out issues for the sake of their children.

Having come from divorced parents and being a divorcee herself, Mason understood firsthand the pain, conflict and stress such incidents often wreaked on kids. She’d often find herself drawing on personal experiences to empathize with distressed families and make sound decisions in the legal system. “I always hope to make a difference,” she says. “If not for anyone else but the kids.”

If there’s a single word of advice Mason would impart to parents considering divorce, it’s this: “If you can forgive and forget enough to maintain decency between yourselves for the sake of your child(ren), there’s nothing greater you can do for them. Children need to love and respect both parents,” she says. “Because the only truly innocent party in a divorce is that child.”

Mason’s soft spot for kids is inbred within her, pushing her to work harder for the families she serves. “I’m so thankful that I’ve had all these mediations and acted as a guardian ad litem. I’ve worked for more than 20 years with children in custody cases and feel deep gratitude that today I have the insight and experience to help me make sound decisions to place them in situations where they can thrive.”

After several decades of hard work and experience in the court system, Mason has many accomplishments to her name, making her mark on Gwinnett and staying true to her family’s legacy of successes for the county. She’s served as a longtime local attorney, mediator and former Municipal Court judge. Today, she can proudly add another title to that growing list: becoming a Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge.

But with this weighty title come heavy burdens that Mason openly discusses—the responsibility to make the right decision in cases that are often ensnared in importance and sensitivity. For Mason, her desire to do the right thing for all parties involved is her greatest desire, and her biggest concern.

“Judges can be given a lot of discretion. You want to make sure you do the right thing for the people who stand before you. I have a lot of responsibility, but I also have a lot of people bolstering and holding me up. I’ve got a village that includes lifelong friends, respected colleagues, former clients and nine generations of family buried in Gwinnett soil, so I feel lifted up and sustained.”

One among those she lost include her loudest cheerleader, greatest inspiration and the first man she ever loved—her father—who died of head trauma after a month in a coma when he was only 61. It’s a loss Mason doesn’t take lightly till this day. A weight she carries heavy in her heart every day and every time she peers at her wristwatch, one of his few remaining belongings.

“I hear him in my mind on my best days, every day. I hear him and I hope the best of me comes out, because that’s what he’d want.”