Longtime Fulton commissioner Lowe dies

Tom Lowe, who spent 40 years as a Fulton County commissioner, died Friday – just weeks after leaving office.

Lowe, 86, served longer than any commissioner in Fulton County history and was among the longest-serving county commissioners in Georgia. He represented Sandy Springs, Buckhead and part of Roswell until he stepped down in December.

Colleagues remembered him as a man who loved Fulton County and relished his job as commissioner.

“Even beyond the community he served, he believed in this county and its people,” Commission Chairman John Eaves said.

In 1974, Lowe won election to a County Commission that had long been the exclusive domain of Democrats. For 20 years, he was its only Republican member.

He often squabbled with his Democratic colleagues. But Lowe also bucked his own party’s line on occasion. Just last year, he supported a 17 percent property tax increase that infuriated many Republicans.

“He loved this county,” said former County Commissioner Robb Pitts, a Democrat. “He was able from time to time to put partisan politics aside and do what was best for the county.”

Lowe was a staunch supporter of Grady Memorial Hospital and fought for the development of the Chattahoochee Nature Center. In addition to serving as a commissioner, Lowe served on the Atlanta-Fulton County Water Resources Commission, Atlanta-Fulton County Library Board of Trustees, Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority and the Fulton County Pension Board.

Famously cantankerous, Lowe carried a pistol to meetings in the mid-1980s after he learned a fellow commissioner was also packing heat. He said at the time he would “be damned if I’m going to be overgunned.”

No cause of death was announced for Lowe on Friday. But, in recent years, he was frail, often showing up late for meetings and leaving early. In 2012, he was late for a vote on replacing 1,300 faulty jail locks – a step needed to end federal supervision of the county jail. In his absence, commissioners rejected the plan. At a later meeting, Lowe voted in favor of the proposal, and the locks were eventually replaced.

Lowe acknowledged he should have been there for the first vote, but said he wanted to avoid the extensive grandstanding of his colleagues.

Because of his lengthy commission tenure, Pitts said Lowe often provided valuable historical perspective.

“He was a character, an old codger as he got older,” Pitts said. “In spite of his failing physical health, he was still brilliant and sharp as a tack.”

After earning a civil engineering degree at Auburn University, Lowe worked in heavy construction, building highways, railroads and dams. In 1957, he founded Lowe Engineers Inc., a civil engineering firm. He later developed commercial and industrial properties in metro Atlanta.

The Tom and Bettye Lowe Lobby and Grand Foyer at Auburn University’s Shelby Center for Engineering Technology was named in recognition of the Lowes’ support of the Samuel Ginn School of Engineering.

Lowe is survived by his wife, Bettye, his sons Tim and Scott Lowe of Atlanta, daughter Kathryn Blackburn of Auburn, Ala., and his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter Cyndi Lowe Bender.

Lowe announced last year he would not seek re-election. But he seemed to relish his status as the commission’s longest-serving member.

On the occasion of his 20th anniversary on the board, he said he was ready to serve 20 more years. That is, he said, “if I don’t get bored to death and the boredom doesn’t kill me from listening to [other politicians] trying to make themselves something they’re not. I have no plans to quit whatsoever.”

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