Leaders among leaders

Panoply of influential Augustans helped shape the past decade

Sometimes the best way to figure out where you are -- and how you got there -- is to look back.

That's the spirit of The Chronicle's list, published Friday, of 10 local leaders who helped shape the past decade.

Looking at the list, you can see why Augusta is where it is -- which is on the upswing, a great place to live, work and raise a family, and a city that's better situated than most to take off when the national economy hits the runway.

Coming up with the list was an invigorating process, and we hope the results are both fun and inspire thought and debate about -- and appreciation for -- the movers and shakers who've helped make Augusta what it is. After an exhaustive process of nominations from reporters, newsroom editors and news sources, and several rounds of spirited give and take, The Chronicle's top newsroom editors pared a list that had started at about 100 down to 10.

The final 10 included the political, leaders such as Augusta Commissioner Don Grantham, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross and the late and beloved Congressman Charlie Norwood; the controversial, such as imprisoned former state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker; the beneficent, such as philanthropists Boone Knox and Clay Boardman; the influential, such as former Medical College of Georgia President Dan Rahn and Chronicle publisher and Morris Communications Chairman William S. Morris III; and the simply courageous -- game changers such as former Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale and former mayoral candidate and radio talk show host Helen Blocker-Adams.

Your favorite editorial department was a mere observer to the selection process -- otherwise, we would have maintained that Mayor Deke Copenhaver belonged on the list for having radically changed this city's political and racial climate for the better, and we hope forever, in the past five years.

Still, he's properly on the newspaper's companion list of the "10 to Watch" in the coming decade, published Saturday.

Many of the 10 most impactful Augustans of the past decade have left tangible evidence of their achievements -- or, like Rep. Norwood, helped strengthen and preserve what was already here: Among his many other accomplishments, Rep. Norwood helped the Augusta area recognize and broadcast the many benefits Fort Gordon brings to the country's national defense network, an invaluable lesson at a time when bases were being closed and consolidated.

Others' contributions may be less obvious or more intangible, but no less profound. Judge Wheale, for example, led an effort -- at great personal risk -- to reform the way cases were handled in the Augusta Judicial Circuit. The Georgia Supreme Court ultimately agreed with him that the old system -- which saw cases endlessly backlogged and crime victims suffering needless, repeated and heartbreaking delays -- was out of step with state court rules.

Meanwhile, incredibly, Blocker-Adams changed things by not getting elected: Her unlikely run for mayor in 2005 saw her miss the runoff by a slim 2 percentage points to eventual winner Deke Copenhaver. Rather than go away -- or sharpen her political ambitions for another run against him -- Blocker-Adams endured the foulest criticism from some quarters to cross racial lines in support of Copenhaver. If Copenhaver changed things here -- see above -- Blocker-Adams was an invaluable comrade in that fight.

Today, those in the know in Augusta merely have to say "Helen," and everyone knows who they're talking about.

As for Boone Knox -- well, he is, as Dickens wrote, "as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world."

And, Dickens might add, "may that be truly said of us, and all of us!"

Every city needs people like these.

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Thu, 12/01/2016 - 22:27

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