In a world full of disingenuous people, Willie Ray Oswalt was someone who believed in looking a man in his eye and shaking his hand.
“One of his famous sayings was ‘your word ought to be as good as your leg,’” said son Carlton Oswalt.
One of Georgia’s longest-serving mayors, Lake City Mayor Willie Ray Oswalt, 77, died Saturday of natural causes.
And to many who knew him, his shoes will be hard to fill.
He had survived 15 cancer diagnoses, two gunshot wounds from a hunting accident and several high-stakes football games, Carlton Oswalt said.
“They don’t make them like him any more,” he said.
Willie Oswalt was elected to the City Council in 1974 and served in the position until he was elected mayor in 1988, according to the Lake City website.
He had been mayor just more than 29 years.
But to his family and peers, his most noteworthy accomplishment was how much he cared for others.
“He was a father figure to so many who didn’t have a father,” Carlton Oswalt said.
He remembered his dad, the head coach at Morrow High School at the time, volunteering to coach a boy another coach had written off as slow, unathletic and small.
And stories of him honking his horn outside of the homes of players to give them rides are too numerous to count.
“He would pester them,” Carlton Oswalt said. “But he would get them to practice.”
The city of Jonesboro offered condolences to the Oswalt family, which includes the late mayor’s daughter Tamara Ellis, in a Facebook post.
“He was truly a pillar in our county and a friend to all,” the city said in its post. “His legacy will forever live on.”
Lake City Mayor Pro Tem Lorraine Hoover will serve in Oswalt's place until a special election is held, wife Lawanda Oswalt said.
She touted the accomplishments of her husband of 51 years in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
She said Willie Oswalt was an industrial arts teacher and high school football coach for more than a decade.
He also was a board member with the Atlanta Regional Commission, a 10-county planning agency, for eight years, according to Lake City.
“He just cared about people,” Lawanda Oswalt said.
She remembered a time when a tree-cutting company left debris and other scraps behind at the home of a disabled man and his wife.
“Well, Willie heard about it and he went over there and got his old red truck,” Lawanda Oswalt said.
The city’s mayor cleaned up the mess himself.
It’s one of the reasons he was known as a “working mayor,” Lawanda Oswalt said.
He helped lead efforts to build a new city hall building, bring a community center to Lake City and develop the Willie R. Oswalt Nature Preserve, which was named in his honor.
“He was a man of integrity,” Lawanda Oswalt said. “He was respected by everyone he met.”
His visitation is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Thomas L. Scroggs Funeral Directors funeral home.
His funeral service is planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday at First Baptist Jonesboro, with interment to follow at Sherwood Memorial Garden in Jonesboro.
The family is asking that donations be made to either the Salvation Army or the Wounded Warrior Project in lieu of flowers.
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