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City, county mourn loss of Newton civic and political leader Ramsey
Owned and operated furniture store near Covington Square for half a century
Sam Ramsey takes part in a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Ramsey Furniture Co. in 2019. — Special Photo, Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce

COVINGTON, Ga. — Some area residents who knew Sam Ramsey today, Aug. 25, praised his work as a community, civic, religious and business leader during his decades of service to Covington and Newton County.

Covington Mayor Steve Horton said Ramsey — who was one of his predecessors in the mayor's seat — also was "one of the most selfless people I ever met."

“Nothing was more important to him than people,” he said. “He loved people.”

Ramsey, 81, owner and president of Ramsey Furniture Co. for 56 years near the Covington Square, died overnight at Emory University Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital following surgery for a broken hip, according to an obituary from Caldwell & Cowan Funeral Home.

A funeral service honoring his life is set for Monday, Aug. 31, at 11 a.m. at Salem Campground Tabernacle at 3940 Salem Road in Covington with internment following in Covington City Cemetery, the obituary stated.

Ramsey's 37-year tenure as a public servant included a decade as mayor from 1997 to 2007 after serving on the city council for nine years and the city planning commission for an additional 18 years.

Covington attorney Frank Turner Jr., said he knew Ramsey all his life. His father, Frank Turner Sr., and Ramsey were boyhood friends and Turner served as city manager during Ramsey’s time in city government.

“He was a good Christian man,” Turner Jr. said. “He was level-headed … he always tried to bring people together.”

He noted Ramsey was a lifelong supporter and a major organizer of the Salem Campmeeting — and recalled traveling as a boy to the Campmeeting in western Newton County at Ramsey’s urging.

The Campmeeting’s cancellation this year because of COVID-19 was the only time other than during the years of the Civil War in which it was not held since 1828.

Ramsey was a member of the Covington Kiwanis Club for almost 50 years. He also was a major supporter and longtime lay leader of Covington First United Methodist Church, Turner said.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Doug Gilreath, recalled Ramsey as a “very devoted, very dedicated member.”

“He had a way of making his passions your passions,” said Gilreath, who has served as the church’s pastor since 2008.

He noted the church’s choir typically performed as part of one of Ramsey’s “passions” — the Campmeeting. 

Ramsey even arranged for the bishop of the North Georgia Methodist Conference — the parent organization of 800 churches — to speak during the event, Gilreath said.

The pastor also said Ramsey and his wife, Becky, helped bring the church sanctuary’s centerpiece, an 1,100-pound chandelier, to Covington First United Methodist after it proved too heavy for the ceiling of Emory Oxford College’s chapel.

He also noted Ramsey was instrumental in what became Garden of Gethsemane Homeless Shelter on Turner Lake Circle in 2009. 

According to a 2007 story in The Covington News, funding the shelter was a hot topic at the time. Ramsey cast the tie-breaking vote for the city council to approve $1.08 million to establish the badly-needed but controversial shelter in a former daycare center. 

During Ramsey’s decade as mayor, he supported development of the city’s airport and sale of Covington Cable to Charter Communications, the 2007 story noted.

Covington also saw construction of a number of county facilities, including the Newton County Library, the Judicial Center, the Turner Lake Recreation Complex, the Newton County Board of Education headquarters and the Newton County Detention Center. 

Georgia Piedmont Technical College and Georgia State University’s Perimeter College in Newton campus also located in Covington during Ramsey’s time in office.

Horton served as city manager, police chief, public works director and other positions during 36 years with Covington government — much of it during Ramsey’s time as an appointed and elected city official. 

Among Ramsey’s goals was making life easier for the neediest in society, Horton said.

Ramsey also looked to a higher power for guidance, the mayor said.

“He’d talk politics, but he talked about wanting to be in the ‘prayer house’ rather than the White House,” Horton said, laughing. Horton said Ramsey was among the people who helped guide him along the way in his career. Ramsey was a “mentor” to Horton who helped convince him to seek election to the mayor’s seat that he won in 2019, the mayor said.

“Sam always was an encourager,” Horton said. 

Covington Police Chief Stacy Cotton was named to head the police department the same year Ramsey was elected mayor. He said Ramsey was “a gentleman to everyone he ever met.”

“His passing is yet another one of Covington and Newton County’s great homegrown people who cared about everyone in this community to leave us recently,” Cotton said.

“I was honored to serve as his police chief when he became mayor but more honored that he was my friend. Mr. Sam, you will be missed.” 

County Commissioner Ronnie Cowan was human resources director during a 25-year span with the city of Covington, some of which included Ramsey’s years in office.

Cowan recalled Ramsey being “fair and reasonable” as he worked with him to develop policies for city workers. 

He said Ramsey was always knowledgeable about city initiatives, such as the city government self-funding its insurance.

“Sam was just a good all-around person,” he said.

He said Ramsey and one of his predecessors, Bill Dobbs, led the town as it developed into a modern city over three decades. 

“He is what I would call an elder statesman,” Cowan said. 

County Coroner Tommy Davis described Ramsey as a “great man” he had the honor of calling a friend.

“Mr. Sam Ramsey was a fine man — an outstanding man,” he said. “He was a pillar of the community and a public servant.

"He was ever-present within the community. He was always so giving of his self to others … Sam was just a great man. Just always Sam Ramsey — always the same. “And to say he was a great man is a huge statement. The measure of a man is not only who is today, but who he was yesterday and who he is the next day. 

"And Mr. Ramsey was always the same. He was always positive and always had the best intentions for this community and city. He was a great role model for the community.”

The Newton County government on its Facebook page posted photos from a celebration of Ramsey Furniture Co. being in business for 100 years in 2019.

“Newton County mourns the loss of Sam Ramsey and shares its thoughts and prayers with his wife Becky and family. 

“Sam Ramsey served Newton County throughout his life, on the Covington City Council, as mayor, as owner of Ramsey Furniture, a faithful member of his church and dedicated chairman and advocate of the Salem Camp Meeting.

“Newton County thanks you Sam Ramsey.”

He is survived by his wife of almost 50 years, Becky Ramsey; a cousin, Tony Ramsey, and his wife, Kimberly, and their children, according to the obituary.

Memorial contributions may be made to Salem Campground; or Covington First United Methodist at 1113 Conyers St. SW, Covington, GA 30014.

Publisher and Editor Taylor Beck contributed to this report.

Former Mayor Sam Ramsey reminisces on the challenges he faced working towards improving the airport during a dedication of Covington Airport's new terminal building in 2017. — Jackie Gutknecht | The Covington News
Left to right, former Covington mayors Bill Dobbs, Sam Ramsey, Kim Carter and Ronnie Johnston. - photo by Submitted Photo/Sam Ramsey