Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks — a lifelong resident of the small east Gwinnett city he led in both the 1970s and for the past 16 years — died Thursday morning after a battle with cancer.
He was 76.
He is credited both with ushering his town into the modern era — through improving infrastructure and encouraging new businesses and amenities for residents — and with helping keep growth in check.
Founded more than a century ago as a railroad town and known in pre-highway days as a cut-through between Atlanta and Athens, Dacula was a town of just several hundred residents the first time Wilbanks was elected mayor.
It remains one of Gwinnett County’s more rural cities but now boasts more than 5,000 residents, a handful of suburban-style subdivisions and a bustling retail hub just north of its downtown.
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“He was totally dedicated to his hometown of Dacula, which happens to be mine as well,” said Gwinnett Commission Chair Charlotte Nash, who knew Wilbanks for decades. “I know that Dacula’s going to miss him.”
Wilbanks was born and raised in the town just east of Lawrenceville. A graduate of Gwinnett County Public Schools and the University of Georgia, Wilbanks served two terms as mayor in the 1970s before retaking the mantle in 2002.
He was preceded in death by his parents and had no immediate family — but a cousin and “his family at the city of Dacula survive him,” a statement from the city said.
State Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Dacula resident, called Wilbanks a “wonderful friend.”
“Mayor Wilbanks made an indelible legacy on our community through decades of public service and the lives he touched,” Efstration wrote on Facebook. “RIP, my friend.”
Wilbanks, who spent his work career at the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, had been battling cancer and was hospitalized due to complications in mid-December.
Lawrenceville City Manager Chuck Warbington called Wilbanks “an incredible civil servant.”
Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter, who represents the Dacula area and considered Wilbanks a friend, suggested Thursday that a new bridge under construction in the city be named after the mayor.
“He always had a kind word and encouragement every time I met with him,” Hunter said. “My wife and kids thought the world of him, as did I.”
Visitation will be held between 4 and 8 p.m. Friday at Tom M. Wages Lawrenceville Chapel, 120 Scenic Highway.
A funeral will follow at noon Saturday at Hebron Baptist Church, 202 Hebron Church Road in Dacula. Wilbanks was an active member at the church.
In lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the American Cancer Society.
Nash, the commission chairman, called Wilbanks a “very good advocate” for Dacula and said she’ll miss their friendship — and their regular meetings at the Waffle House off Ga. 316 and Harbins Road.
“I will never go into that building, or even think about going to Waffle House, without being reminded of those breakfast meetings I had with him,” Nash said.