Hamilton County commissioners pay tribute to Claude Ramsey

Hamilton County commissioners pay tribute to Claude Ramsey

June 20th, 2018 by Judy Walton in Breaking News

In this June 25, 2012, staff file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, left, listens as Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey talks about Chattanooga and a $2.3 million grant to extend the Riverwalk in phase three of the project.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Only two sitting members of the Hamilton County Commission served for any length of time under County Mayor Claude Ramsey, but all of them mourned his loss Wednesday.

Ramsey, 75, who served more than 40 years in office as a state representative, county commissioner, assessor of property and county mayor, died Monday. He played key roles in acquiring the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant for redevelopment as Enterprise South, landing Volkswagen at the site and in developing the Tennessee Riverpark, among other accomplishments. He also served as deputy to Gov. Bill Haslam from 2010-13 before retiring from public service.

Commissioner Warren Mackey, a commissioner since 2006, reflected at Wednesday's commission meeting about Ramsey's character and his vision, calling him smart and persistent.

"I remember how, when Claude wanted something done, he had a way of doing it, he had a way of reasoning with you. And, I might add, he had a hammer, too, that he didn't have to use so many times," Mackey said.

"Claude brought a lot of changes to Hamilton County. I think he's the one who set us on the economic course we're on and that we're benefiting from right today."

Commissioner Greg Beck, who has served since 2005, liked Ramsey's manner and his legacy of public service.

"He could call and ask us what we thought about particular projects and whatever. He wouldn't ever try to push you or anything like that, he'd just ask you what you thought about it. I was very, very happy to support Claude and all of his things he wanted to do."

According to Beck, a media report said he'd "done more for District 5 than any man alive." Beck said that honor really belonged to Ramsey.

"My advocacy over the years for District 5 was supported by Claude Ramsey and a lot of associated programs and projects," he said, including helping start the first Chattanooga-Hamilton County summer work program for inner-city youth.

And, he added, "It was Claude Ramsey that flew here, rode up and down the highway to Nashville, and flew there, went to Germany, and back and forth, leaving his family, trying to get VW for District 5.

"Losing somebody like Claude, I think this community has suffered a great loss," Beck said.

Several commissioners first were elected in August 2010, just months before Ramsey stepped down as mayor to become deputy governor.

Among them, Commissioner Jim Fields called Ramsey "one of the true great public servants of Hamilton County." Commissioner Joe Graham called him "an amazing public servant in many capacities" and Commissioner Tim Boyd added, "This commission, our mayor, his staff is a living legacy of Claude Ramsey [for] open, honest, good government."

Commissioner Chester Bankston also was elected in 2010, though he and Ramsey were friends for more than 60 years.

"I actually picked strawberries with him," Bankston said. "His dad and my dad fox hunted together. Claude and I, we all played ball together. He's really been one of my mentors in politics, and I helped him in all of his races, everything he's ever run for.

"We've been friends for a bunch of years. I'm really going to miss him," Bankston said.

Commission Chairman Randy Fairbanks was out Wednesday. Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, elected in 2014, and Commissioner Greg Martin, appointed to fill an unexpired term in 2016, also added condolences.

So did County Clerk Bill Knowles, who remembers when Ramsey was elected to the county commission in 1978.

"He was a good leader and a good man," Knowles said.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger, who replaced Ramsey, called him a friend, confidante and wise adviser.

"With Claude, I kind of felt like I was filling Bear Bryant's shoes when I first walked into this office, and I've realized since then it would be like trying to replace Nick Saban," Coppinger said.

He and Ramsey were golf buddies, he said, and "if you ever had the opportunity to play golf with Claude Ramsey, he was just as competitive out there as when he was going for economic development."

"He always had Hamilton County at his heart," Coppinger said.

"His legacy will live on for a long, long time, and his accomplishments. I know he would have high expectations of all of us sitting here to continue to move this county forward and do the right things."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.