DeVaney left legacy on city's landscape

Charles A. DeVaney left his mark on Augusta, most visibly with Riverwalk Augusta.

Chosen to serve as mayor when Ed McIntyre was convicted of bribery and extortion in 1984, he would be re-elected mayor four times, leaving office on the day the consolidation of Augusta and Richmond County became official. But he would also leave the city nearly bankrupt.

Mr. DeVaney died Sunday, possibly of a heart attack, and was found in his wrecked car in Jasper County, S.C., a few months after having undergone a heart catheterization and receiving a clean bill of health, said Rick Toole, Mr. DeVaney's cousin once removed.

"The joke in the family was he had the genes, and he was going to be around forever," Mr. Toole said.

Mr. DeVaney's mother, Hazel Lucero, is 91.

The catheterization was prompted by an abnormality in an EKG during a physical exam that doctors questioned, Mr. Toole said.

"They wanted to see what it was, and it was a wall inside the heart that would be a little thicker than normal," he said. "It wasn't anything of any danger. They said they could treat it long-term with medication."

Results from an autopsy to be performed at the Medical University of South Carolina are expected today by 9:30 a.m.

An autopsy is required because of the single-car accident with no obvious cause, Mr. Toole said.

"And quite frankly, the family wants to know," he said. "The air bag did not deploy in the car. I went down today to identify Charles and look at the car. I concur with the coroner the accident was probably not enough to give major injuries to anybody."

Jasper County Coroner Martin Sauls said such an autopsy "is very routine. It's what we do regularly in such cases."

Authorities will be looking for signs of heart attack or perhaps a seizure, he said.

Meanwhile, Augustans remembered their former mayor as a friend, a gentleman, a scholar and a statesman.

Former Mayor Bob Young said the most visible elements of the legacy are the riverwalk and the Augusta Riverfront Center, which includes the Marriott hotel, conference center and office building that was partially funded with federal grants during his tenure.

The Port Royal tower, Artists Row, the city Marina and Boathouse and the trees on Broad Street and Walton Way were projects completed during Mr. DeVaney's tenure, Mr. Young said.

"The Historic Preservation ordinances for the Bethlehem neighborhood and Summerville were adopted to protect those neighborhoods while Charles was mayor," Mr. Young said. "There's so much to see that Charles had a hand in."

After he left office, Mr. DeVaney was executive director of Augusta Tomorrow and helped Mr. Young organize the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. Former state Sen. Charles Walker got $20 million from the state Legislature to fund that program to build affordable housing for the Laney-Walker Boulevard area.

Mr. DeVaney also helped form the Augusta International Visitors Association, a nonprofit established to manage the city's Sister City program using private money.

Mr. Young appointed Mr. DeVaney as chairman of the Third Level Augusta Canal Task Force, which developed a plan for use of the property around the canal after Atlanta Gas Light cleaned up the area.

Canal Authority Executive Director Dayton Sherrouse was manager of Richmond County in the 1980s, when the city and county were rivals. As the county representative, he had to meet with Mr. DeVaney over sales-tax distributions and planning of the Joint Law Enforcement Center.

"I'll say this about him: He was representing what he felt was the interests of the city," Mr. Sherrouse said. "He was fighting to get every penny for the city that he could get. So I can't fault him for it, but there were some tough conversations and negotiations."

When Mr. Sherrouse left county government and became executive director of Augusta Tomorrow, his relationship with the mayor changed because the agency's public partner was the city.

"That's when Riverwalk got done, and he worked like a Trojan," Mr. Sherrouse said. "To some degree, I guess that project, not just Riverwalk but the hotel and office tower, would be his legacy. There was really doubt in a lot of people's minds, sometimes in mine, that it would ever get done, but he was persistent that it was going to happen, so Riverwalk was done and then the hotel and office tower. It was quite remarkable that it was finally built."

While Riverwalk grew, however, the city's finances waned, and it drained revenues from the water department to keep going. By 1995, it could no longer be denied that the city was in dire financial straits. Layoffs and returned checks marked the last year of the city's life.

Mr. DeVaney insisted that the city's cash-flow problems were exaggerated by those intent on painting the "darkest of dark pictures." The city eventually honored all of its returned checks.

"We never bounced checks," he said during a 2002 interview.

It took him a few years to recover from what he felt was "some very unjustified abuse" from politicians that continued long after he left office, he said.

But on Monday, everyone remembered Mr. DeVaney as champion of Augusta.

To City Clerk Lena Bonner, whom Mr. DeVaney befriended when she was the only black woman in the mayor's office, he was a very polished, very astute political figure. "He was a great administrator, and he was very insightful about politics and the workings of the city," Mrs. Bonner said. "He had great aspirations for the city. He wanted to improve it with all of our public works projects, and even inside the building and with our Christmas decorations. He started Christmas Downtown, which was a very exciting time for downtown."

Staff writer Tim Cox contributed to this article.

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

FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS

The funeral for former Augusta Mayor Charles A. DeVaney will be at 1 p.m. Friday at First Baptist Church of Augusta. Burial will be in Sunset Hill Cemetery in North Augusta.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist.

Thomas Poteet & Son Funeral Directors is in charge of the arrangements.