Mayor's assistant shares vision for city

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Nixon

Karyn Nixon, executive assistant to Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver calls her boss a visionary and herself a detail person, but that's not the whole story. She's a visionary, too.

Shortly after the mayor took office, Mrs. Nixon got a photographer to take a photo of downtown Augusta from the mayor's eighth-floor office in the Municipal Building to compare with one she'll have made when he leaves.

"I want to show the difference of what was there and what wasn't," she said.

She's convinced the comparison will be striking.

"We are going to bring downtown back," she said. "You can see baby steps of it happening. When they start breaking ground on the TEE Center, and hopefully, we'll get the baseball stadium up and running. We're working on the feasibility study with that right now. And then what's going on with Watermark. That whole landscape is going to change."

She envisions cranes, development and people in the photo that will be taken when the mayor's last term ends.

"I want the 6,500 people we need to get a grocery store because I think, honestly, when our downtown is thriving, the whole Richmond County, North Augusta, Columbia County, we all thrive," she said. "We all benefit from it. That's why I do what I do."

She calls what she does "the matrix work" for the mayor, which includes many phone calls and making the right connections.

"It's being able to know who to call, who to connect a caller to, how to make sure Augusta does not get left out of the mix," she said.

Although Mrs. Nixon gives the mayor all the credit, she's been involved in the success of his initiatives, such as the mayor's prayer breakfasts and the mayor's Masters reception, which brings 10,000 people downtown each spring, and the Christmas Lights Spectacular.

As upbeat as she is about Augusta these days, before she met Mr. Copenhaver and became a believer in his ability to bring change to the city, she and her husband were ready to pull up stakes and move to Columbia County.

They had come back to Richmond County from New York City where they lived for 16 years, 12 in the city and four at East Hampton at the end of Long Island.

She worked for Chase Manhattan Bank in the private banking section, and Mr. Nixon worked as a government bond broker at Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center until he quit in 1998. They moved into their second home in East Hampton.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001, and the loss of dozens of their friends and Mr. Nixon's co-workers in the World Trade Center attacks.

"I can't tell you how many friends we lost," she said. "We made the decision to move back down South, move home where everything was good and wonderful. It was a good thing. It was time for us to come home. We had had a second child by then, and this is a much better place to bring up kids. The Hamptons are fun. It's an adult playground. It's not a place to raise your children. So I was a stay-at-home mom. Raising my kids. Loving life."

After buying a home in Augusta, they saw problems here and considered moving.

Then Mrs. Nixon met Mr. Copenhaver and started talking to him about those problems.

"And he says, 'You know, I agree with you. There are problems here. I want to do something to change them. I'm going to run for mayor,'" she recalled. "So I said, 'Well, if you're going to run for mayor, I'm going to work for you. I'm going to work on your campaign.'"

"And from day one, I started working with him on his campaign and just totally believed," she added.

After he was elected, he asked Mrs. Nixon to work for him, and although she'd never considered doing anything like her current job, she said she loves it.

"We work very well together," she said. "He's marvelous. He's a generous man. He's ruled by faith. You just respect everything that's coming out of him ...I feel very blessed to be in the position I'm in."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

KARYN NIXON

AGE: 44

OCCUPATION: Executive assistant, Office of the Mayor of Augusta

ORGANIZATIONS: Member Central Savannah River Land Trust Board and YMCA Metro Board; 2007 graduate of Leadership Georgia and 2008 Leadership Georgia Alumni Relations liaison

FAMILY: Husband, John Nixon; daughter, Caroline, 10; son, Jack, 9

QUOTE: "We work very well together. Deke's a visionary. He sees the big picture. He can see how this is going to work here, and this is going to work here, and where we need to go. I'm a detail person. I follow behind him and I connect the dots."