UPDATE: We are sad to report that Leann passed away on November 1, 2018 due to complications from cystic fibrosis. Emily continues her work in Leann’s honor, though, through Cars & ‘Q. Learn more here.
Construction is in Emily Choate Bridges’ blood — she’s a key part of her family’s company, Choate Construction, one of the largest construction companies in the Southeast. But this marketing genius is constructing other important projects, including the philanthropic work she does on behalf of those afflicted with cystic fibrosis. Her lifelong friend, Leann Rittenbaum Ott, was diagnosed with CF at age 3 and served as Emily’s inspiration and motivation to raise awareness, funding and support for the CF community. In honor of National Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month in May and because we think this construction-loving car buff with a heart of gold is worth it, we’re thrilled to feature Emily Choate Bridges as today’s FACE of Atlanta.
You are marketing director at one of the largest construction companies in the Southeast, Choate Construction. What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome working in a male-dominated industry?
Well, I’m very blessed to work with some of the best males this industry has to offer! I adore my male co-workers at Choate, making any associated challenges that much more manageable. For me, most challenges I run into are more self-inflicted than anything. I have to avoid giving in to those quiet whispers in the back of my head that say things like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” While those thoughts occur, I try not to listen to them. Instead, I try to focus on the fact that I bring a fresh perspective to the table and that I have something important to say.
We heard you were a car buff. If price was no object, which car would you LOVE to start your collection, and why?
Oh, what a great question! I did actually buy my dream car when I was in high school: a 1969 Z28 RS Camaro. I still have it and always will. It has a piece of my heart! If money were no object I would begin my collection with a 1936 Delahaye Type 135 Competition Court Teardrop Coupé. Only three still exist today and with the last one having sold at $2.3 million, it’s actually a steal compared to some of the other rarities of its day, like a Bugatti for instance.
You grew up in Atlanta and attended Chamblee High School as a teen. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the Chamblee area or just Atlanta as a whole?
The development that is beginning to come to the Chamblee area is exciting. It’s neat to hear about Chamblee becoming a destination and a place where people want to live, work and play, which hasn’t always been the case. I’m especially excited to see Chamblee’s antique row area become revitalized. There’s a lot of character there that could be capitalized upon.
You graduated CHS with your best friend (then and now) Leann, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 3. What is it like growing up with a friend battling a life-threatening genetic disorder? How has it changed your own outlook on life?
Growing up with Leann was just like growing up with any best girlfriend. We played together, laughed a lot and went through all the various milestones that friends do. We made a great pair; I remember we would go to the school counselor’s office, and she would do her breathing treatments and I’d get strapped into the back brace I wore for my scoliosis. We were a real duo! That mental image makes me laugh, but looking back, I can see that because we were both a little different from the norm, it brought us closer.
Leann never let cystic fibrosis get in the way of doing what she wanted to do. She just did life with breathing treatments worked in, hospital stays over school breaks and a lot of pills each day. Because of her resiliency, it was only much later I really began to understand the impact of having cystic fibrosis and what that really means. Now, she reminds me to appreciate life and not to sweat the small stuff. She is an incredible example of the gumption and power of the human spirit. We should all take a few cues from Leann.
You have taken a huge leadership role with Choate Construction and CF research, serving on the Georgia Cystic Fibrosis Foundation board and even receiving the organization’s highest honor, the national Jena Award. Why should others get involved in this issue or any volunteer opportunity?
Cystic fibrosis affects a relatively small population; only 30,000 people in the country have CF. Because of that, there is little interest in research and drug therapies from big pharma; it’s understandably just not that profitable. But that is absolutely not a reason to have 30,000 children and young adults living with a capped life expectancy. When Leann was diagnosed, the life expectancy was 13 years old. Can you imagine shortly after your child is born, finding out they are only expected to live a few short decades, and that there isn’t enough treatment available simply due to profit margins and lack of support? This disease – these families – need our assistance! They need a microphone on blast telling their stories!
Tell us about Cars & ‘Q.
Cars & ‘Q for the Cause began in 2009 as a small side fundraiser to Choate Construction’s then main CF fundraising platform, the Great Strides walk. The casual car cruise-in, made up of mostly Choate employees, quickly became a fundraising platform in its own right. Now in its seventh year, Cars & ‘Q has grown to become an anticipated car show and party that features everything from exquisite senior classics to pristine muscle cars and all the way to new exotics. For 2016, Cars & ‘Q featured a continuous pour of local brews including Lagunitas, The Unknown Brewing Co. and Wild Heaven Craft Beers, mouthwatering barbecue by Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ, live music by Don McB, silent auction and more than 100 classic, muscle, exotic cars and bikes. Metromont Corporation was our copresenting sponsor, and we couldn’t do this event without them. This year, the event raised more than $255,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation!
When you and Leann have some free time, describe your perfect Atlanta girls’ day.
Our perfect day would begin with breakfast, of course (you’ll notice food will guide our day). We’d head over to General Muir for the Avenue D bagel and lox with a side of latkes. I have fond memories of being at Leann’s house for Jewish holidays and eating her mom’s incredible Jewish cuisine, so it’s a fitting start to the day!
Fully carbed-up, we’d then get a little exercise by doing some home goods hunting – furniture, art and anything else quirky we come across. We’d scour Kudzu, Savvy Snoot and the wide range of places around Howell Mill and Huff Road. Leann’s style is colorful midcentury, and mine is more industrial chic, so we’re good sounding boards for each other.
Since this day is “perfect,” calories don’t count, so we are headed to The Brick Store in Decatur, my most favorite pub in the entire world, for a beer and a snack. Afterwards, we’d zip over to Ponce City Market to browse and shop. Finally, to end the day, we’d meet up with our husbands, Stephen and Doug, for dinner. We’re headed somewhere on Buford Highway. Leann and I both feel strongly that Buford Highway is an Atlanta treasure and love trying a different restaurant and cuisine each time.
Looking at the Choate portfolio, what is your favorite Atlanta project you’ve been a part of?
I am really proud of all the work we do, but one project that stands out in my mind lately is Atlanta Tech Village in Buckhead. It represents so many things to me: the sustainable, thoughtful repurposing of a building and its resources; the growth of Atlanta’s tech sector; the collaborative, exciting work environment ATV represents; an all-around incredible project team; and because it has been awarded the best Interior/Tenant Improvement job in the country by Engineering News Record magazine! This is Atlanta’s and Choate’s second consecutive national win in this category (the previous project being the Carters Inc. headquarters, also in Buckhead). I am so proud Atlanta is home to dynamic, national award-winning projects that push the boundaries in construction and real estate.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
You are not better than anybody, and nobody is better than you.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding friends, family and faith?
Beer, Lake Lanier and music
A giant thank you to Emily Choate Bridges and her BFF Leann for being a part of our FACES series and inspiring others about the power of giving.
And, as always, our appreciation to CatMax Photography for today’s wonderful images!