Serving for 20 years and bringing the world’s eyes to Conyers, Charles Walker may be one of the most influential mayors in the city’s history.
However, that influence may have never happened if not for one of the most surprising elections in Conyers’ history.
In the late 1970s Walker was serving as president of the Conyers Historical Society when the current city administration was trying to turn the Depot into a parking lot. The historical society countered then Mayor George Owens by running one of its own - Walker.
“They didn’t feel like the council or mayor were listening to them,” Walker said. “So the historical society talked me into running for mayor.”
Walker agreed to run but didn’t think he would have to worry about actually serving.
“I said, ‘If you want to waste your time I’ll do it; just to make a statement,’” Walker said.
It turned out to be more than a statement when he won by 25 votes.
“I was flabbergasted,” Walker said.
With not an ounce of experience and very little idea of what needed to be done as Mayor, Walker stepped in 1978.
While in office Walker helped turn the fire department over to the county as well as make the sewer system a county function.
The change in the sewer system was the high-water mark for Walker’s administration to that point. With the county’s rapidly expanding population, water lines would have had to have been stretched exponentially. The additional pipes would have increased fees exorbitantly.
“We sold that to the county and that was a big accomplishment,” Walker said. “It solved a long-term problem. There was disagreement and friction all over the county”
As Walker’s administration continued so did his achievements. The biggest which came thanks to the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Atlanta had won the bid to host the centennial Olympic Games and needed a place to host, among other events, the equestrian competitions. Walker and the city of Conyers swooped on the opportunity.
The area now known as the Georgia International Horse Park was originally purchased for effluent from the waste water plant. But Walker and his administration brought in a consultant firm to see what could be done with the property.
The firm looked into using it for a conference center, but it was deemed to remote of an area. Then the consultant firm brought the idea of the Olympics to the city of Conyers.
“One day they came and said, ‘Eureka! We have come up with a thought. Atlanta is going to pursue the 1996 Olympic Games, and there will be an equestrian venue, and perhaps that property might make a suitable plot for the equestrian venue,” Walker said.
From there Conyers went to work to entice the Atlanta Olympic committee.
“We were visited by people from all over the world,” Walker said. “Even Princess Anne came several times.”
Bringing the Olympic Games was the highlight of Walker’s mayoral career, but it was meeting with foreign dignitaries that was his original goal. While in college, first at Presbyterian College and then the University of Georgia, Walker wanted to go into foreign services, particularly in Russia. However, when he took the foreign service examination he didn’t pass, due to his language skills.
He then went into the insurance industry, before owning his own company called WalCo Packaging off of Commerce Drive and Parker Road.
When President Bill Clinton enacted the NAFTA Bill, his company went under.
“It kind of sank my boat,” Walker said. “I then worked for the city of Conyers as a handy man in the office, and after that (I went to the Chamber of Commerce)”
Throughout it all, Walker remained in Conyers, the city where he and his mother were born in the same house. Walker’s Conyers roots stretch as far back as just after the Civil War, when his grandfather settled in the Smyrna area in 1865.
He even met his wife here in 1954 when he was a lifeguard at a swimming pool and she came from Atlanta to cool off.
“We’ve stuck it out ever since.”