Charles DeVaney: Augusta's Ambassador

January 29, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---Former mayor Charles DeVaney died over the weekend.

Today, Augusta pauses to remember one of its own.

Mr. DeVaney died Sunday afternoon while driving his vehicle back to Augusta from Hilton Head.

The car hit a tree on Highway 278, but the Jasper County coroner says he may have suffered a heart attack before that happened.

He was Augusta's ambassador and was always pushing to make the city bigger and better.

I sat down with Mayor DeVaney more than a decade ago to learn more about Augusta's mayor.

It was in the fall of 1994, and Charles DeVaney had already been in office for 10 years.

We sat down in Charles DeVaney's home on Walton Way, under the gaze of a portrait of a younger man, not the silver-haired politician most of us knew.

We talked about his transition from councilman to mayor, and how during his time in office, he was a champion for growth.

As mayor, Charles DeVaney was always looking to the future...and he didn't like what he saw.

"We have found ourselves in the worst of all worlds," he said. "Three censuses, each showing our population has declined. Surely the proverbial ton of bricks has fallen on our heads and the message should be loud and clear."

"What's your biggest accomplishment as mayor?" I asked.

"As I think back, no question, it's the riverfront," DeVaney said. "I think it's beautiful...far beyond anything we ever expected."

"What's your biggest disappointment?"

"In terms of public life, no question: the failure of growth. So many people looking out for themselves; turf protection; people scared of change."

In terms of his own personal change, Charles DeVaney always knew there was life after politics.

"Believe it or not, I don't have to be in public office to be happy."

He told me he liked to spend time on that piano every day. I guess it was his way of dealing with the stress that goes along with being mayor.

People who knew Charles DeVaney know he always carried himself with a lot of polish. A lot of people think he could have taken his political career even higher to a national level.

But he chose to stay here, teaching at Augusta State for awhile and serving on local boards in the city he loved.

Today, the people who worked with him remember the last mayor before consolidation.

"He traveled a lot and he was willing to always share it with me," said city clerk and friend Lena Bonner. "He would tell me some wonderful stories about his traveling. He was just so down to earth. He gave me a great opportunity to work for this city and I'll always be appreciative."

"He was not a politician," Mayor Deke Copenhaver said. "He was somebody that was committed to moving Augusta forward, and he will be sorely missed by this community."

Charles DeVaney...dead at the age of 54.

The funeral for former mayor DeVaney will be at 1 p.m. Friday at First Baptist Church of Augusta.

Burial will be in Sunset Hill Cemetery in North Augusta.

Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist.

Thomas Poteet & Son Funeral Directors is in charge of the arrangements.