Farewell to the mayor

Hundreds of people gathered Friday to say farewell to former Mayor Charles A. DeVaney, whose years of public service helped change the city's skyline and make the Garden City bloom.

The celebration of his life at First Baptist Church drew Godalming, England, Deputy Mayor Peter Martin, and many others to Augusta to sing the praises of the man described as gentleman, scholar, ambassador, statesman and friend.

"His life was utterly unique and significant," said Dr. Greg DeLoach, the pastor of First Baptist Church.

Mr. DeVaney died Sunday of cardiac complications. He was found dead in his wrecked vehicle in Jasper County, S.C.

His funeral was in keeping with his life - dignified and classical.

The Augusta Symphony string quartet played selections by Johann Sebastian Bach, Gabriel Faure, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

"We gather in celebration of life in its fullness," said Dr. Jacob Malone of First Baptist. "This is a time of joyous sadness. Joy in a life well lived, and sadness because he is no longer with us."

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who read from the New Testament, said Mr. DeVaney was his role model as mayor.

In his message, Dr. DeLoach spoke of Mr. DeVaney's humility and contributions and challenged the audience to continue the former mayor's good work.

"We celebrate, and we move from here to affirm," he said.

Mr. DeVaney's casket, topped with a blanket of white roses, lilies and hydrangeas, was escorted from the church to the strains of DeWitt Dent playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. It was followed by Mr. Copenhaver; former Mayors Lewis Newman, Larry Sconyers and Bob Young; and pallbearers Richard Swan, Mark Wilhelmi, Ed Presnell, John Patrick, Bill Karney and Gerald Woods.

Mr. DeVaney was mayor of Augusta for 12 years. Chosen to serve when Ed McIntyre was convicted of bribery and extortion in 1984, he was re-elected four times, leaving office the day the consolidation of Augusta and Richmond County became official.

After leaving office, he became executive director of Augusta Tomorrow and interim executive director of Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. He was the executive director of the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation at the time of his death.

Mr. DeVaney was returning from a weekend at Hilton Head Island at the house of his longtime friends Marci and Mark Wilhelmi when he died. He had gone to Savannah for a burn foundation function over the weekend, according to Mrs. Wilhelmi.

"He had a spectacular visit on behalf of the burn foundation," she said. "He went to a black tie event over in Tybee Island and was unexpectedly presented with a $10,000 check for the foundation."

When he returned to Hilton Head, he and Mr. Wilhelmi spent the weekend doing exactly what Mr. DeVaney liked to do: sit, read, watch the waves, have spectacular food, lots of laughs, catch up on everything and everybody, she said.

Mr. DeVaney was involved in many community projects and groups.

"I have 2 pages of notes of stuff he was involved in that we need to find somebody to continue to finish the work," she said. "He ate, slept and drank Augusta, Ga., right down to the end. Right to the end."

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

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

''... It's a sad day for Augusta, but it's a good thing for people to remember somebody who was totally dedicated to public service and enriching and helping the lives of people throughout Augusta.''
- Mayor Deke Copenhaver

"... He was Mr. Augusta. He loved this city. He worked tirelessly for it. ... He did it because he knew he could do it, but it wasn't like he was in it for any alternative purpose other than to make Augusta a city that people could be proud of."
- Mark Wilhelmi

"Charles was one of these rare individuals who got to live life his way. He traveled more than anybody I've ever known. I don't think the sun ever sets on friends of Charles DeVaney."
- Marci Wilhelmi

"Unlike probably the political scene today, Charles and I were just two young guys who wanted the same political office. It was competitive, but it was fair. It was never personal. It was about issues. We never lost friendship or respect for each other."
- Former Richmond County Commission Chairman and interim Augusta Mayor Willie Mays, who ran twice against Mr. DeVaney for mayor

"As a journalist, I always liked him. I was tough on him on some editorials, and when the city was having financial trouble, I was one of the people ... that asked the tough questions. ... It never interfered because we had been friends for years right up to his death."
- Phil Kent, former editorial page editor for The Augusta Chronicle

"I don't think there is one specific thing that's Charles' legacy ... you see his fingerprints in so many different places, on riverwalk and downtown. You see it up in the historic districts of our city. And I think Charles will be remembered as somebody who not only kept the train on the tracks but really moved it forward."
- Former Mayor Bob Young

" ... As far as I'm concerned, there will be a long time coming before we ever have a better ambassador for this city."
- Ed Presnell, SRP Federal Credit Union vice president


WORKING FOR AUGUSTA

Events in the career of Charles A. DeVaney:

1971: Graduates from Academy of Richmond County

1974: Graduates from Augusta College

1977: Graduates from Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University.

1978: Announces law partnership with Milton Avrett

1979: Named president of Olde Town Neighborhood Association

1979: Makes unsuccessful run for 1st Ward seat on Augusta City Council

1981: Upset winner for 1st Ward seat on Augusta City Council

May 1984: Elected mayor pro tempore by the council to replace Mayor Ed McIntyre, who resigned after being convicted of extortion

October 1984: Elected mayor without a runoff over three other candidates

October 1987: Re-elected as mayor

1988: Riverwalk Augusta, considered one of the highlights of his efforts to revitalize downtown, officially opens

1990: Re-elected mayor with 57 percent of the vote

1993: Re-elected mayor with 63 percent of the vote

1994: Works to promote consolidation of city and county governments

1995: In a turbulent year, the city is found to have collected millions less than predicted for five years and is $2 million in the red. After Georgia's attorney general signs off on consolidation, Mr. DeVaney announces in October he will not run for office in the consolidated government.

1996: Becomes executive director of Augusta Tomorrow, serving until 1999

1999: Named interim executive director of Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp., serving until 2000

2001: Earned master's degree from London School of Economics

2002: Named executive director of Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation