Former commissioner Leroy Johnson donates rare book
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
An unveiling ceremony was held Tuesday at the 1904 Coweta County Courthouse for a display containing the only known copy of the 1886 Manual for Road Commissioners.
The manual, which was written in Coweta County as a guide for commissioners in the state of Georgia, was donated by longtime Coweta County Commissioner Leroy Johnson.
Leroy Johnson served as commissioner from 1954 to 1992. His father served from 1932 to 1954.
Several members of the Johnson family were on hand for the unveiling, which took place right outside the Coweta Visitors Center.
"It's a very special event," said Coweta County Administrator Theron Gay. Gay said that Johnson had called him up a while ago and "said I've got something I need you to take a look at."
Johnson was interested in donating the book to the county and Gay said he thought it would be a wonderful thing.
Gay said he wanted to talk a bit about "Mr. Leroy's" service to the county and his accomplishments as commissioner.
Johnson said when he first became commissioner, the pay was a mere $125 a year.
"So I know they weren't doing it for the money," Gay said. "We appreciate that service. As far as our records can show, Mr. Leroy is the longest serving commissioner in Coweta County," Gay said.
The county's population doubled during Johnson's tenure. He was there when the county first introduced zoning, when the fire department began operation, when the airport was established, and 911 service began. The Coweta Hospital Authority was formed in the 1950s, which led to the construction of Coweta General Hospital in the early 1960s.
They were all pivotal parts of Coweta's transition from a rural to a suburban county.
The manual is "really kind of a notebook and class on how to be, and do your job, as a commissioner," Gay said. "In those days there probably wasn't a lot of information, so this book was a very valuable tool."
"At this time, the primary job" of a road commissioner was "to build and maintain a road system," Gay said. And that was a tremendous effort.
"It hasn't been that many years ago when our primary system was a dirt road system," Gay said.
Commissioners who were on hand were invited to speak about Johnson, as was his longtime friend Wendell Whitlock.
"Thank you so much for those years. You left some big shoes for us to fill," said Commissioner Bob Blackburn.
"We wouldn't have had the success of these years" without the foundation Johnson helped build, said Commissioner Paul Poole, who represents the First District, as Johnson did.
Johnson and his wife, Ella Hill Johnson, have been married 73 years.
"You should get a special award," Poole said to Mrs. Johnson, with a smile. "Thank you, thank your family and all your children," Poole said. "And for allowing me to serve as your commissioner."
"It's a pleasure to know you, and to honor you," said Commission Chairman Rodney Brooks. He said that as he listened to Gay outline Johnson's accomplishments, "I don't see how you worked that long in this county and got along with all the people that you did. I just want to say thank you," Brooks said. "Your fingerprints are left all over this county from the work that you have done," he said. "Thank you for your service."
Before the manual was put into the glass display case, it was scanned. Copies can be obtained from Tom Corker, county administrative and operations director.
"It's kind of interesting reading," said Gay.
Johnson said he wanted to say how much he appreciated Tuesday's event.
"Don't ask me where I got it," Johnson said of the book. "I don't know. I've had it 60 years."
"I used to get it out and read it a lot of times," Johnson said.
Johnson recalled on Saturdays how he would walk around the courthouse and shake hands with everybody. Except the ones playing checkers. You didn't want to disrupt them. If you broke their concentration, you'd be an enemy for life, Johnson said.
During a campaign, Johnson said he visited the store in Madras and was talking to the owner. The man only had one question for the candidate: "do you know how to plow a mule?"
When Johnson told him he did that all the time, "he said 'I'll vote for you.'"
"I did enjoy the years," Johnson said.
"It's a real honor for me to leave something I think will do Coweta County a whole lot of good."