Sam Ramsey’s widow said her husband gave his time freely to public service simply because “he wanted to make the world a better place.”
“It was important for him to use his time to help the most people,” said Becky Ramsey.
Sam Ramsey was a downtown Covington businessman and former mayor who helped lead the operations of the Salem Campground, the Boy Scouts’ Atlanta council, the county’s only homeless shelter and many other nonprofit organizations before his death last year.
The longtime president and CEO of Ramsey Furniture Co. on the Covington Square died at age 81 in August 2020.
Ramsey was a 1957 graduate of Newton County High School. He attended Oxford College of Emory University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Emory University Business School in 1961.
He went on to serve in the Air Force during the Cold War era but returned home in 1964 to lead the family business his grandfather had founded in 1919.
Ramsey began his public service in 1970 with an appointment to the Covington Planning and Zoning Commission.
The following year, he began a two-year term as president of the Kiwanis Club. He was elected in 1975 to lead the Newton County Chamber of Commerce and received its highest award for community service, the R.O. Arnold Award.
He also served as a leader and advisor for the Boy Scouts of America’s Troop 222 in Covington — which led to serving on the Atlanta Area Council and Advisory Board for the 14-county Metro Atlanta area.
Ramsey decided to enter the political sphere in 1988 and won election to Covington City Council.
In 1996, he was elected mayor to complete a one-year unexpired term of his predecessor. He then won election to three full terms before leaving office in 2008.
Among other initiatives he undertook as mayor, Ramsey worked with local pastors and churches to create Faithworks, a nonprofit assisting families with rent and utility expenses.
He also was the tie-breaking vote for relocation of the Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter from Porterdale to Covington, and served on its board for 11 years.
Ramsey’s support was controversial but the need for a shelter was very apparent amid the county’s rapid growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, Mrs. Ramsey said.
“People were living in their cars, in the woods behind McDonald’s,” she said.
Mrs. Ramsey said her husband also was a member of the grand jury that told judges about the need for a new county jail — which ultimately led to construction of one in the early 2000s.
“People found he was constantly thinking ahead for the community,” Mrs. Ramsey said.
She said Ramsey also was an advocate for keeping the county’s government and judicial facilities near the Square at a time when others wanted to move some of them — and the accompanying traffic — to other parts of Covington.
The move to build a new courthouse and county administration building in the downtown area helped keep the county’s “center” in downtown Covington — which allowed the historic area to remain a vibrant retail and governmental area, Mrs. Ramsey said.
Sam Ramsey also was an active member of the Covington First United Methodist Church and served as chairman of its Administrative Board and Council on Ministries.
He also attended the annual Salem Campground meetings all his life — and joked he even was there before he was born when his mother attended while pregnant with him, he told the The Covington News in 2017.
Mrs. Ramsey, an Atlanta native, made the trek to the camp meeting in the late 1960s and met her future husband of 50 years there.
Ramsey’s involvement followed his ancestors’ role as being among the founders of the Salem Campmeeting which began in 1828. He served as trustee and chairman of the Program Committee and the Board of Directors for 57 years.
Ramsey’s final year with the campmeeting, 2020, was a disappointing one for him after the board opted not to present it as an in-person event for the first time in response to health concerns surrounding the pandemic.
He told The Covington News in 2014 about what the oldest continuously operating campmeeting in the U.S. meant to him.
“’Most of the time I feel like it’s so close (to) heaven on earth as possible. It’s quite an experience. You have to be there and experience it for yourself,” Ramsey said.