James “Jim” Tysinger, 91: Republican senator was a trailblazer

When Jim Tysinger was first elected to the Georgia Senate in 1968, he had a half-dozen Republican colleagues. When he retired in 1998, a Republican majority was within reach.

“Jim was a trailblazer for Republicans in Georgia, and he garnered significant respect and influence under the Gold Dome, even as a member of the minority party,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He was a great Georgian, a public servant, but most important, he was just a really nice guy.”

Former Gov. Zell Miller said Tysinger didn’t mind working with Democrats to get the job done.

“He would cross party lines to work on something he was interested in, which was often education,” said Miller, also a former state senator. “He was respected by all of the senators, in fact I can’t think of anyone who was more respected than he was.”

James Wesley Tysinger, widely known as Jim, of Atlanta, died Feb. 12 from complications of heart problems and pneumonia. He was 91.

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A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church, Dunwoody. His ashes will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date. H.M. Patterson & Son, Oglethorpe Hill is in charge of arrangements.

Tysinger came to Atlanta, after his service in the Army during World War II, in the mid-‘40s to attend Georgia Tech. He married the former Joann Freiborg and started his studies in engineering. The couple was married for more than 35 years when she died in 1981.

In the early-‘50s, Tysinger graduated from Tech with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and a master’s in industrial management, and went to work for Shell Oil in Louisiana. A couple of years later the Tysinger family moved back to Atlanta where he took a job with Westinghouse Corp.

Meg Hartin said her father got “the political bug” when he was on the city council of the now defunct City of North Atlanta. Still working at Westinghouse, Tysinger ran for the 41st senate district seat, and held it for 30 years. During his time in the senate, he took special interest in projects that would improve the quality of life for his constituents, his daughter said.

“I would mention the area Brook Run, as well as Blackburn Park,” she said. “He really worked to keep those as greenspaces.”

Tysinger also wanted to make sure he, and other elected officials, were accessible to the public, so he started hosting a Saturday breakfast. It was a bipartisan affair, and was well attended especially during election season, Hartin said.

It was at those breakfasts that the former Loretta Curl Smith saw the senator. A couple of years after his wife died, a mutual friend introduced them. Tysinger and Curl married in 1983, and were preparing to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in April.

“He was my very best friend,” Loretta Tysinger said. “And he had a lot of friends in the senate, Democrat and Republican.”

His chairmanship of the Senate’s Science, Technology & Industry committee is a testament to the Democratic friends he made, his daughter said.

“As a member of the minority party, it is hard to get a chairmanship of a committee,” she said. “And I think his participation as a committee chair was a testament that he had support on both sides of the aisle.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Tysinger is survived by daughters, Joan W. Tysinger of Atlanta, Janet R. Siemens of Belleville, Ill.; stepson, Young W. Smith of Lexington, Ky., stepdaughter, Rebecca J. Frey of Newnan; brother, Burton Grey Tysinger of Wake Forest, N.C.; seven grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

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