Georgia State Troopers stand guard over Speaker David Ralston’s flag-draped casket as loved ones and lawmakers share hugs and condolences. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
House Speaker David Ralston made his final journey to the Georgia Capitol Tuesday as throngs of lawmakers and staff gathered to say goodbye to the fixture in state government.
“At times, he governed the House with an iron first, but also with a big soft heart,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “That is why he was so respected and admired, and why his memory will continue to powerfully echo through this Capitol as it will through the north Georgia mountains that he loved so much.”
Ralston, who was the longest currently serving state House speaker in the country, died Nov. 16 following an extended illness. He was 68.
Former Lt. Gov Casey Cagle worked with the Blue Ridge Republican when they served together in the state Senate in the 90s, and again in the 2010s when Cagle led the Senate and Ralston led the House. The two Republicans did not always see eye to eye, Cagle said, but it was always clear Ralston valued friendship and the good of the state over political squabbles.
“Obviously, he had the job of representing the House, I had the job of representing the Senate, but we never staked a position that would jeopardize our friendship or our bond together, and I admire that about him,” Cagle said. “When I look at what he did, in particular this year, from a mental health perspective, that was an epic piece of legislation and one that really defines who he is, the character of the man, and always having an eye to the needy among us.”
Lt. Gov-elect Burt Jones said the Legislature will be worse off without Ralston’s knowledge and personal warmth.
“He was somebody I always admired and looked up to, and he was somebody that as you can tell — ” Jones motioned to the large crowd gathered in the Capitol “ — he was appreciated by people on both sides of the aisle and from different areas of the state, both rural and metro. It’s a loss,” he said. “Just the institutional knowledge and just his strong leadership that he provided there in the House and for the entire General Assembly.”
Former Rep. Len Walker, a Republican from Loganville, led the crowd in prayer and read from the Book of Proverbs: “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
“David Ralston was not an unreliable friend by any stretch,” Walker said. “He was a friend who would stick close to you. He was a friend who would encourage you. He was a friend who would build you up. He was a friend who would make you feel better about what you were trying to accomplish here in this great Capitol building.”
“Even when I failed, even when I came up short, David was the one who was there to pick me up and to gently correct me and to minister unto me,” he added. “I want you to know that we need more people like David Ralston, who will not hold grudges, who will not look at the worst in anyone, but would always be the kind of friend who would pick you up.”
Ralston will lie in state at the Capitol through Nov. 23. Visitations are scheduled between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday in Ellijay and Saturday in Blue Ridge. Ralston’s funeral is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. at Fannin County High School Performing Arts Center in Blue Ridge.
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