Roy Varner didn't intend to stay in Newton County, but like many young men, he fell in love — first with his wife Charlyne and then with the county. And since he made Newton County his home, he decided to make it a better place than when he came. According to many, he accomplished just that.
His son Aaron remembers his father always saying, “I was born a farmer and I'll die a farmer.” When he came to Newton from his home in Carnesville it was with the intention of working a two-week job to help his grandfather on his farm. He never expected to meet the love of his life, Charlyne Aaron. The two were married in 1943, and had a daughter named Anita and a son, Aaron.
When Charlyne was pregnant with Anita, Roy was sent to Germany to fight in World War II.
“My sister was 18-months-old before my dad ever saw her,” said Aaron.
When Roy returned home he took his unique talent for fixing things and began work as a mechanic for several different companies, but his main job was working for Henry Anderson, who Aaron calls “an important part of his life.” Anderson bought a Ford tractor dealership and moved the operation to the corner of Ga. highways 213 and 36.
“He was a mechanic, a general manager, you name it,” said Aaron. “He was chief, cook and bottle washer.”
In the early 60s Anderson sold the dealership and he and Roy went into business together, starting Anderson and Varner Farms. Roy was the son of a farmer and had farmed for most of his life, so it seemed like a natural progression. They raised cotton, soybeans and cattle, but along with cultivating the land, Roy also cultivated friendships with local farmers and other people throughout the community.
Always interested in government and the way the county operated, Roy decided to run for chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners in 1976. He won the election and took office in 1977. He retired in December of 1992.
“Daddy got things done,” said Aaron. “He had a unique ability to form partnerships and he was a visionary. And when he could see the value of something he would not always let the cost dictate if he should do it or not. Once he saw that value, the cost became an investment. And he never lost sight of that, even when the hounds of dissension would be barking at his feet. If it was the right thing to do, he felt like he should do it if he could.”
During his tenure in county government he met Dr. Bill Dobbs, who at one point ran against him for county commissioner and who served as mayor of Covington for many years. In those years, the two became great friends, and remained so until Roy's death.
“When I ran against him and he beat me, he did me a big favor,” said Dobbs with a chuckle. “Because I had decided I didn't really want to be commissioner anymore... He was the best person I could have ever asked to work with. There wasn't a finer person to work with or a finer man.”
Though they had not seen each other in about two weeks, Dobbs said the two had talked on the phone and that Roy was a regular visitor to Dobbs' office in the city where the two would sit and chat.
“His death is a tremendous loss for the county and the state. There was never a better man, and even with all he did, Roy Varner would never take credit for something, he always wanted to make sure that credit went to the entire community... I will truly miss him.”
One of Roy's biggest challenges was creating a reservoir for the county. In the mid-80s the county and the region suffered an intense drought. The only public water source at City Pond was getting dangerously low. The idea to build a reservoir came to Roy and his partners and friends he worked with, so he started asking questions and talking to people to see just what it would take to build one in Newton County.
“He and Bill Dobbs were extremely compatible partners in making decisions and they showed everyone what cooperation could do,” said Aaron.
What it could do, was get a reservoir built. Lake Varner officially went online in 1992 and was named in Roy's honor, something Aaron said his father appreciated deeply.
Roy made the decision to not run for office again, but he never really quit. He served on various committees -- always with a positive attitude, always doing what was right.
“On several occasions my daddy made this statement,” said Aaron. “He said, 'positive attitude is what gets things done. Negative attitude never did build anything.' He was also fond of saying, 'don't worry about who gets the credit. If it's the right thing to do there will be enough credit to go around.'”
When asked about Roy as a father, a lump caught in Aaron’s throat.
“He was a super father and a wonderful man,” he said. “And I could talk from here to midnight about him. He and Mother provided me and my sister with everything we needed and a little of what we wanted. We had a roof over our head, clothes on our back, food on the table and love in our hearts.”
In March Roy celebrated his 86th birthday. He passed away Thursday at his home.
“He made a comment a few days before he died,” Aaron said. “He told me that he was born to serve and he never quit.”