Arthur Clifford “Bob” Guhl, a four-term member of the Georgia Senate and the only Republican to serve as DeKalb County Commission Chairman, died Nov. 30, one month after being diagnosed with a fast-moving type of cancer.
A memorial service is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 6 at First Baptist Church in Monroe, with visitation and reception following in the fellowship hall. Private interment with full military honors will be at Georgia National Cemetery in Canton at a later date.
“Bob Guhl was a rare person, particularly in today’s political culture, because he was obnoxiously honest, and he didn’t know how to sugar coat anything,” said Robert Bell, former gubernatorial candidate, who also served in the House and Senate.
Another Senate colleague described him as a “reality check” on honesty and credibility on the floor of the Senate.
Bell and Guhl met in the 1960s, when they each presided over their neighborhood civic associations, and together fought unrestricted apartment development that was common as DeKalb went through major growth pains.
Guhl was motivated to run for public office by lack of land use planning and wild rezoning, and he was elected to the DeKalb Board of Commissioners in 1968 and represented District 1 for 4 years. He was a proponent of land use planning and worked to reign in rampant, unrestricted development in the county’s formative years.
“The county commission was owned by the developers back then,” Bell recalled. “The big issue was zoning of apartments. DeKalb in those days was just booming...exploding.”
Guhl was elected Commission Chairman/CEO, the first - and only - Republican to hold that position, and served from 1973-76.
He served during the growth years of DeKalb, and during a particularly contentious political time, fighting to bring order and process to the Wild West-style of spot zoning and patronage that had characterized DeKalb in earlier years. He served during a stormy period, with a politically split board of commissioners, and challenging growth issues as DeKalb went through a major growth spurt.
Guhl weathered successfully an incident in which he and his executive assistant taped conversations with several other elected officials, resulting in invasion of privacy charges pursued by the Democratic District Attorney, but he was vindicated when charges were thrown out by the Georgia Supreme Court. Guhl said the taping was a protective measure based on remarks made to him and his staff, and “He’d been told by a judge that it was okay to make the tapes,” Bell recalled. “It was a bleak Christmas around his house that year. But he was like the Phoenix; he kept coming back.”
Guhl never really fully retired from the public arena, and when he came back to Georgia, he ran for the Georgia Senate, taking office in July 1993 after winning a special election. He was re-elected for four more terms and retired in 2002 after redistricting put him in a district with another Republican. Senate colleague Eric Johnson described Guhl: “In the Senate you often served as our conscience – our reality check. And sometimes you had the courage to be the only ‘NO’ vote – and be right, not political.”
Following his retirement from the Senate, he and his wife Shirley became CASA volunteers (Court Appointed Special Advocates for neglected and abused children). Helping these children was his passion up until his death.
“I remember Bob Guhl as very tenacious, very focused in his goals, what he wanted to achieve,” said John Reetz, former reporter for The Atlanta Journal. “Sometimes he didn't care for what was written, but he never went into a shell, or lashed out. He was still available, and always a gentleman.” Guhl reached out to Reetz about two years ago and the two met occasionally for lunch at one of his favorite spots, the Old Hickory House restaurant in Tucker. “Even there over lunch, each time, he was clear and decisive in what he wanted – pork sandwich, end cut, extra crispy,” Reetz recalled, noting that Guhl at age 86 was extremely active, well-versed in politics and had a sharp recall of the early days of DeKalb.
Guhl worked for Dover Elevator for 20 plus years, first in Chicago, then transferring to Atlanta as sales manager. He then moved to Greensboro, N.C. as district manager. In 1982 he moved to San Francisco as West Coast Regional Manager and retired in 1989.
He and wife Shirley moved back to Georgia to a small farm outside Social Circle where they raised Charolais cattle and “parented” several horses including foster horses through Georgia Equine Rescue League.
“We were married almost 33 years,” wife Shirley said. “He lived 86 years and he relished every one of them. He loved the military, and he loved his corporate life. He absolutely really loved politics, and he loved to travel. We spent his 60th birthday in Greece and his 84th birthday in Italy. We have gone all over the world and he really loved it, but what he loved most was coming home.”
Guhl was born in Chicago on June 7, 1928, the son of Arthur Charles Guhl and Albertina Modigell Guhl. He was graduated from Riverside-Brookfield High School and attended Lyons Township Junior College.
He enlisted in the 228th Infantry Regiment, Illinois National Guard in 1947, and transitioned to U.S. Army Reserve in 1966 when he and his family moved to Georgia.
His assignments ranged from tank platoon leader to executive officer then battery commander in a 105mm howitzer battery, to battalion communications officer, to division artillery S-4 supply officer, to S-1 personnel officer in the 310th Civil Affairs group. He retired in 1969 with the rank of Major.
Survivors include wife, Shirley Markuson Guhl; daughter, Sandra Guhl (Greg Creech), Bluffton, S.C.; sons, Randall Guhl (Gina), Alpharetta; Gary Guhl, Flowery Branch; Greg Guhl, Atlanta; Jerry Guhl, Oakwood; stepdaughter Nancy Peavy, Augusta, Maine; and stepson
Jim Peavy, Tucker; sisters, Dolores Niebur, Monroe, Ohio; Audrey Pearson, Durham, N.C.; Elaine Harris, Portage, Ind.; grandchildren, Austin Guhl, Courtney Guhl, Mackenzie Guhl, Corey Guhl, and David Guhl.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Barnabas Fund at First Baptist Church, Monroe, or to a charity of your choice.