Credit: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent / The Clayton Crescent

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that former Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-7, Blue Ridge) has died. He was 68.

Gov. Brian Kemp ordered that flags be flown at half staff and that Ralston lie in repose beneath the Gold Dome. The public may pay their respects at the Capitol Rotunda from 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, November 23.

Condolence letters may be sent to:

Office of the Speaker
332 State Capitol
Atlanta, Georgia 30334

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that contributions be made to the Willard and Ernestine Ralston Scholarship Fund at the University of North Georgia, in care of the UNG Foundation, 60 West Main Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533 or at in memory of Speaker David E. Ralston.

Other opportunities to remember Ralston include:

  • Friday, Nov. 25, from 2:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.: Visitation at Logan Funeral Home, 357 Dalton Street, Ellijay
  • Saturday, Nov. 26, from 2:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.: Visitation at Akins-Cobb Funeral Home, 7871 Blue Ridge Drive, Blue Ridge
  • Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:00 p.m.: Funeral Service at Fannin County High School Performing Arts Center, 1 Rebel Circle, Blue Ridge. A private graveside service will follow.

Ralston, a Republican who reached across the aisle and worked hard to establish comraderie among members of deeply divergent ideologies, had announced on November 4 that he would not seek reelection as House Speaker due to medical problems.

His final legislative achievement—one of which he was enormously proud—was guiding bipartisan legislation on mental health reform into law during the last session.

Speaking with GPB’s Bill Nigut, Ralston said, “This is an issue that’s not Republican or Democrat. It’s not urban, rural or suburban. It’s not black or white. It’s not rich or poor. I mean, this cuts across every strata of our society here in Georgia and everywhere. And it’s also an issue I feel very passionate about.”

In a press release from the House, Ralston’s “loving wife, Sheree, his children and other members of the family were with him when he passed.” 

Ralston was the nation’s “longest currently-serving state house speaker.” in the country. He represented Fannin, Gilmer, and part of Dawson County in the north Georgia mountains. 

Georgia Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Sen. Tonya Anderson (D-Lithonia) issued this statement:

“The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Georgia House of Representatives Speaker David Ralston. I want to wish his family our condolences during this difficult time. Over the years, we appreciate his willingness to work across the aisle to push forth public policy beneficial to all Georgians such as the Hate Crime Legislation, repealing the Citizen’s Arrest Law, and passing the Mental Health Parity Act. His leadership and pragmatism will be missed.”

Sen. Valencia Seay told The Clayton Crescent, “My fondest memories of Speaker Ralston stem back to when the Women’s Caucus had their retreat and they invited Speaker Ralston for the luncheon portion. He asked us to pose questions, so I asked when the legislators were going to get a raise. Everyone chuckled. Sometime afterwards, I went to his office and had a one-on-one with him about the seriousness of a raise for the legislators and he listened. It is no surprise to me that, this year, the legislators got a raise and I am confident that Speaker Ralston had a hand in making this happen for us and I am grateful to him for his efforts. I am saddened by the loss and his family will remain in my prayers. I’d like to add that when I first started my legislative career, I started by training for a couple years in the House and then followed up with twenty years in the Senate. During this process, one of the things that I can appreciate about Speaker Ralston is that I can recall that he has always had an open door and a listening ear.”

Rep. Rhonda Burnough told The Clayton Crescent, “The loss of Speaker Ralston will leave a big hole in the GA House. My greatest memories are that he always remembered birthdays and anniversaries of every member.”

Rep. Yasmin Neal (D-74, Jonesboro) told The Clayton Crescent, “I am shocked. Speaker Ralston has been a friend of mine for many years now. Even though we were on opposite sides of the aisle, we always shared a great respect for one another and have navigated so many issues together. We have laughed heavy laughs together and talked through many issues related to Georgia and how to make this place better. He will be missed.”

Former State Rep. Valencia Stovall posted on Facebook, “I was saddened to hear the passing of one of my biggest supporters, Speaker Ralston in his leadership position. I was successful because of his influence in many leadership roles I undertook as state rep. I found out about 3 years into my tenure that he knew my dad from a certain campaign back in the day. I’m grateful for God showing me highly accelerated favor through this leader. He helped me to understand what the meaning of bipartisanship meant. My prayers are with his family, friends, & fellow legislators. His last deed was appointing me to the MLK Jr, Advisory Council. I will miss hearing him say ‘The hour of convening has now arrived. Will all members take your seats. The clerk will ring the bell.'”

Georgia Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-47) will serve through 2022 as House Speaker.

Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-47, Milton) will finish out Ralston’s term, which ends in January, making her the 74th Georgia House Speaker.

On Monday, House Republicans nominated Majority Leader Jon Burns (R-159, Newington) as House Speaker, with the formal vote on January 9 when the House convenes for the 2023 legislative session.

Jones released this statement:

“The State of Georgia has lost one of its greatest leaders with the passing of Speaker David Ralston. This is an unfathomable loss and one that leaves a hole in the heart of each and every House member.

“David and I were members of the same freshman class—having both been elected in 2002, and I am proud to have served as Speaker Pro Tempore for 13 years under his leadership. While I will miss his guidance and advice tremendously, I will miss his friendship more.

“Whether it was growing jobs and expanding opportunity in rural Georgia or making adoption easier and reforming mental health care in our state, David Ralston spent his career in public service trying to lift others up and move our state forward. He knew the awesome power of bringing people together—reasoning together—and finding common ground. Regardless of political ideology, he treated everyone with respect and was a model of civility.

“We pray for his wife, Sheree, and their entire family at this most difficult time. While our House of Representatives will continue to lead, it will never be the same without Speaker David Ralston.”

Georgia House Democrats issued this statement:

“It is with great sadness for Georgia House Democrats to learn of the passing of Speaker Ralston. We extend our sincere condolences to his wife, family, loved ones, and all who were touched by his leadership.”

“Dean Calvin Smyre (D-135, Columbus) said, ‘A great pine tree has fallen in the Georgia House of Representatives. Speaker David Ralston was my friend and we worked closely on many issues facing Georgia. His leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with the Ralston family during these difficult times.'”

“Leader James Beverly (D-143, Macon) said, ‘It is with profound sadness and grief that I found out today that Speaker Ralston has passed. Words cannot begin to express my sorrow for his family, for his friends, and for the great state of Georgia, and especially for the House. He was truly a giant amongst men, a friend indeed.'”

Georgia Senate Republican Majority Leader Steve Gooch issued this statement “on behalf of his caucus regarding the passing of Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives David Ralston: My Senate colleagues and I will mourn the passing of a great Georgian, Speaker David Ralston. Speaker Ralston was a steady, reliable guiding force under the Gold Dome in good times and tough times. He cherished the idea of his beloved House being a body that truly represented all of Georgia’s people, and he respected each of the elected members that comprised it, regardless of partisan differences. It takes a genuinely good and decent person to lead that way. That is how Speaker Ralston will be remembered in our hearts and our history, as a genuinely good and decent man.”

Funeral arrangements were pending as of press time.

We will update with more information as events warrant.

Robin Kemp is executive editor and CEO of The Clayton Crescent, which she founded in 2020. She has worked for Gambit, CNN, The Weather Channel, Clayton News, Henry Herald, and numerous freelance outlets....

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