Paul Collins Broun was born on March 1, 1916, in Shellman, in Randolph County, to Annie Charlotte Edwards and LeRoy Augustus Broun. After the family moved to Athens in 1930, he graduated from Athens High School in 1933 and received a bachelor of science degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Georgia in 1937. In 1938 he married Gertrude Margaret Beasley, and they had three children, Paul Jr., Conway, and Michael. Paul Broun Jr. won a special election in July 2007 for Georgia’s Tenth U.S. Congressional District seat, replacing the deceased Charlie Norwood.
Broun served in the U.S. Army in Hawaii and Australia during World War II (1941-45), rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war he returned to Athens, where he operated a Studebaker-Packard dealership and a Firestone tire store. He was a civic leader in the Athens community, serving as president of the local chamber of commerce in 1958 and as chairman of the Athens Housing Authority.
Broun was first elected to the state senate in 1962 in a historic election that took place after the federal courts struck down Georgia’s long-established county unit election system. Broun was one of several new senators elected in a class that included Jimmy Carter, the future president of the United States; Leroy Johnson, the first Black legislator elected in Georgia since Reconstruction; and politicians like Hugh Gillis, Culver Kidd, and Bobby Rowan, who would have a lasting impact on legislative politics.
Broun was elected to nineteen consecutive terms in the senate, where he served as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the University System Committee. He was instrumental in putting money in the budget for the development of the state’s flagship institution of higher education, the University of Georgia, as well as the expansion of Athens Technical College.
Broun was a key player in the passage of legislation that established the World Congress Center in Atlanta and helped secure the funds for the Athens perimeter highway that was named the Paul Broun Parkway. He was also part of the legislative team that worked with Governor Zell Miller in the early 1990s to finalize the legislation that created a state lottery and dedicated the lottery proceeds to fund HOPE scholarships, a landmark program that enabled thousands of high school students to attend college.
Broun’s political career ended in 2000, after he lost the Democratic primary election to Athens lawyer Doug Haines, who had campaigned for Broun in 1996. Broun was one of several legislative incumbents who were defeated that year after they voted for Governor Roy Barnes’s education reform act and drew opposition from the Georgia Association of Educators, one of the state’s largest teachers’ groups.
He died on February 14, 2005, just two weeks short of his eighty-ninth birthday.