Rockdale County lost a dedicated public servant and force of nature with the passing of Commissioner, decorated World War II veteran and founding father of the Walk of Heroes Veterans Memorial Clarence M. "Bud" Sosebee on Sunday, March 29, at the age of 90.
Bud Sosebee - a mission-driven optimist with an unstoppable zest for life - was born June 23, 1924 in the poverty of Atlanta's Cabbagetown neighborhood, a community of Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill workers.
In 1943, he graduated from Tech High School and enlisted in the United States Army, serving in the 69th Infantry Division during World War II.
During his mlitary service he fought in some of the most harrowing battles of the European theater, including the Battle for the Remagen Bridge, the capture of Leipzig, and the final phase of the Battle of the Bulge. He achieved the rank of staff sergeant and received two Bronze stars, a Combat Infantry Badge. In 2014 he was honored with the French Legion of Honor medal, one of the highest honors France bestows. (Click here for "A Veteran's Story" on Bud Soesbee's WWII experiences)
After serving in the military he returned home in 1946 and entered Georgia Tech, receving a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a second degree in Industrial Management. He went on to earn a Master's Degree in International Business from Georgia State Univeristy. He married his sweetheart Marie "Leesa" Bice in 1949 and they had two daughters, Beverley and Jeannine.
Sosebee began a career in sales with Economy Auto Stores and Philco-Ford Corporation where he traveled across the globe. After the company was sold, he became an electrical engineer with the Air Force. However, he missed the fast-paced world of sales, so he joined the Brown Distributing Company and became its executive vice president, retiring in 1991.
He ran for Rockdale County Post 1 Commissioner in 1987 and won. He served 12 years as commissioner, from 1987-2000. During his four terms, he and the team of commissioners accomplished and oversaw many fundamental changes to the county including: the creation of the Big Haynes Reservoir, which still serves as Rockdale's drinking water source; purchasing the water and sewer system from the City of Conyers; closing the landfill and opening the recycling center on Sigman Road; consolidating the fire departments of the City of Conyers and Rockdale County; the completion of the Conyers-Rockdale Nancy Guinn Memorial Library on Green Street; construction of Parker Road Bridge; expansion of the Rockdale County Courthouse; launching the SPLOST penny sales tax for transportation infrastructure, parks and roads, and more.
"I could not have asked for a better friend than Bud Sosebee," said Norman Wheeler, who served on the Board of Commissioners with Soesbee.
Before he passed, Sosebee was advocating for another water source to be built on the south side of the county. "He was always thinking about something that needed to be done for our county."
But his biggest passion was spearheading the creation of the Walk of Heroes Veterans Memorial at Black Shoals Park/Randy Poynter Reservoir in north Rockdale. Even as a commissioner building the reservoir, Sosebee was envisioning and planning for the Walk of Heroes, which remains partially completed.
"That'll be the biggest legacy, if we complete that park," said Wheeler. "Rather than having a just a place to recognize the veterans, to try to make it one to teach the generations" as an educational center, said Wheeler, to explain the why's and how's and effects of the conflicts of the 20th and 21st century.
"He will have a seat on high to watch it be completed," said Tommy Clack, president of the Walk of Heroes Veterans War Memorial. The memorial is just an example of Sosebee's far-reaching vision and the honor he gave military families' service and sacrifice.
"Rockdale as a county was blessed to have him bring his World War II life and death experiences to realize everything he had accomplished for his community. I think his zeal for life had a profound impact on many of us and many project endeavors he was involved in with making Rockdale a better place."
At the Cherry Blossom Festival, attendees asked about Sosebee, who was not able to be at the WOH booth this year - a testament to how much Soesbee touched the lives of everyone he met, said Clack
"He always had a kind word to say about anything. He was a true gentleman. He was a true World War II generation gentleman and he will be sorely missed."
As news of his passing spread, condolences came from leaders and residents and anyone whose lives intersected with his.
Current Commission Chairman Richard Oden said, "First, my deepest condolences go out to the Sosebee family. Bud was a giant of a man and he is truly, truly going to be missed. I did have an opportunity to go visit with him about 2 weeks ago, and in our discussion it was much the same as always about his passionate focus - he encouraged me to continue to make water a high priority in Rockdale. Just as important, as the founder of Walk of Heroes, he talked about still wanting us to put a museum there. So I'm working hard now to find some funds at the federal level to make his dream a reality.
"His enthusiasm for the Walk of Heroes, veterans, public service and good government stewardship was contagious.
"It's hard to imagine Rockdale without our great treasure among us. But moving forward in the days ahead, we should all think about what we can do to make him proud, share his legacy and give our talents and heart to this community."
Julie Mills, who previously served as the county chief of staff and community relations director, said "I've known Bud for more than 25 years and have the greatest respect and admiration for him. He was a man of honor and integrity, with a humble touch and a down-to-earth and compassionate approach to addressing the many challenges that faced Rockdale County during his time in office. His ear and heart were open to all, and no problem was ever too small for his thoughtful consideration. His personality and his sense of humor were so endearing.
"There was a consistency about Bud in that his convictions and faith showed through everything he said and everything he did. He was a man that you could trust -- to keep his word and to always do what he thought was fair and right. He contributed so much toward enhancing and maintaining the public's respect for the government of Rockdale County.
"Like so many others, I consider it a blessing to have known and learned from Bud. He truly earned the high esteem in which is is held by all who knew him."
Larry Kaiser wrote on the Scot Ward Funeral Services website, "Where do I begin? Bud was the most honorable and decent man I have ever met. He was always smiling and always willing to talk to you about his interests in jewelry making, recycling, water resources in Rockdale and more important than any other topic - the Veterans Memorial Park. He had a passion for all these things but was 'passionate' for the park.
"I will never forget all the great memories that I was very fortunate to be associated with in my 25+ years that I knew Bud. I recall the event where my daughter had a college paper to write on WWII and she met with Bud at the Subway on West Ave. She came back 4 hours later and told me she was 'exhausted' from the interview!! She said Mr. Sosebee would not stop talking about the park and the war!"
Doreen Westberry Holmes wrote on Facebook, "Such a nice man! Mr. Sosebee was a frequent customer at the restaurant I worked at. Always had a smile on his face!"
Bud Sosebee was preceded in death by his wife and life-long mate, Marie "Leesa" Bice Sosebee and daughter, Jeannine S. Dooley, who passed away several months ago. He is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Beverly and George Roberts, Conyers; grandchildren, Tina and Thomas Williamson, Grayson, Julie and Jason Curry, Winterville; great-grandson, Destin Williamson; several nieces and nephews.