DEMOREST – One of the longest-serving municipal elected officials in Georgia is nearing the completion of more than four decades on the Demorest City Council.
John Popham, 80, chose not to seek a 12th term on the city council.
Popham and outgoing Councilwoman Florence Wikle were honored during a city council work session Tuesday night.
“I’ve been on there 44 years and I’ve seen a lot of good times and some bad times, but you wonder where the time went,” Popham said. “I’ve enjoyed it.”
Mayor Rick Austin and others credit Popham with helping grow the city water system by going out into rural areas of the county to sign up customers.
“[Former Mayor] Malcolm Hunnicutt and myself, we got out and signed a lot of people out in the country to use water when we got water, and it’s really helped the town,” Popham said. “It put a lot of money in the coffers here in the town.”
Austin took the opportunity during the work session to acknowledge the contributions of Popham and the city’s other former long-serving elected officials.
“Were it not for Malcolm Hunnicutt, were it not for Perry Hendrix, were it not for Grady Tench, were it not for John Popham, were it not for Paul Skelton, during those years when this water system was being built, and the hard work and the hard hours, folks we wouldn’t have the services that we are able to provide to our citizens every day,” Austin said. “We certainly wouldn’t be able to roll the millage rate back six years in a row like we have. It was because not of what we’re doing up here now, but because of what was done at that point in time – and that took vision, from the mayor, from the council, to the city, to the city manager, to the people that implemented and built it and put it in the ground and took care of it, cultivating it like a garden.
“That’s exactly what happened, and a lot of that was you,” Austin told Popham. “The wisdom that you have in your head and in your heart, and the counsel that you have given me both at this table and over the phone – and sometimes meeting in my driveway or yours – has been counsel that I will never forget.”
Popham formerly served in the U.S. Military.
“I spent five years in the Army and when I got out at 23, I thought I’d never get old, but I’m there now,” Popham said. “I’ll be 81 this year, so I’m going to skip on out. It’s been a good tour of duty, I guess you could say”
Asked for his retirement plans, Popham said, “I don’t know. My wife said we’re going to do a little traveling, but we’ll wait and see.”
Popham’s last official statement during a council work session praised Mayor Rick Austin and City Attorney Joey Homans.
“I’m going to tell you something, when he [Austin] came on six years ago, he took on a financial mess and he straightened it out,” Popham said. “I say he’s a good man. Joey Homans, he’s done real good, too. If y’all smart, you’ll keep Joey Homans but that’s y’all’s business.”
Wikle, who has lived in the city for about 20 years, has served on two separate terms as a councilwoman.
“Thank you, Flo,” Austin said. “You have been a blessing to this city, you have been a blessing to me.”
Austin told Popham he would travel halfway across the country to help Popham if he needed it, and the same for Wikle.
“You’ve got a room full, both of you, that will do anything in the world for you,” Austin said. “It has truly been our honor, the city’s honor, to have y’all serve. I’ve got a two-term, stately lady down here who has provided a lot of guidance and I’ve got a man … strong, consistent, dependable and a friend that has served as a friend not only to us but to all of this city, and it has occurred over 44 years – one of the longest-serving councilmen in this state.”