Claude Ramsey: more than just a strawberry farmer

I used to kid Claude Ramsey about being “a pretty good politician for a strawberry farmer,” and he would come right back at me and say, “You’re a pretty good broadcaster for a Sand Mountain gas pumper.”

It was that easy banter that made Claude a friend to so many people for so many years.  He was country to the core, and proud of it.  His likability surely helped him close many a deal during his political career.  To my knowledge, he never lost an election.  From state representative, to county commissioner, to county assessor, to county executive (later known as mayor) he won our vote and our trust.  He never misused or abused that trust.

A proud Tyner High graduate (and in the school’s Hall of Fame), here is a photo of Claude in the 1959 Tyner yearbook (courtesy of Jim Holcomb).

Claude Ramsey in 1959

When I was a kid, he visited our country store in Bryant, Alabama, selling strawberries.  Little did I know he would go on to a distinguished political career.

Claude Ramsey in 1973, Tenn. State Library and Archives

He was quite young when he was elected to the Tennessee Legislature in 1972, and forty years later he would end his political career as deputy to a newly-elected governor.  From 2011 to 2013, he was Bill Haslam’s right-hand man.  He later started a consulting business until his health began to decline.  He was 75 when he died on Monday June 18, 2018.

Friends have told me that he considered the past few decades “bonus years.” He was very ill with lung problems earlier in his career.  He managed to overcome that obstacle, as he would do with many others.

During his forty-plus years in public service, he was involved in some huge projects that changed the Tennessee Valley.  The Tennessee Riverpark has his fingerprints all over it.  The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga will forever be part of his legacy. The Ooltewah area transformed from farmland to residential and retail development thanks to his efforts to expand the sewer system.

Claude Ramsey with Cindy Sexton and me, on the day Volkswagen announced its Chattanooga plant, July 15, 2008

For sixteen years, he led the Hamilton County Commission, and I do mean “led.” If Claude Ramsey wanted a tax increase for schools, he figured out a way to corral at least five commissioners in his corner, and got it done.  If he didn’t think the time was right, it did not get done.  Yes, deals were made, and things moved forward, but don’t let anyone tell you it was easy.  It takes a strong, determined leader to herd those cats and make it look orderly.

Claude was always accessible, and never said “no comment.” As many elected officials have told me, he shot straight.  He would call you in his office, and “tell it like it is.”

My favorite personal memory of Claude is quite random.  One weekday about ten years ago, I took off work to see the Braves.  They were playing a noon game on a beautiful afternoon.  Between innings, I left my seat to grab a hot dog.  On my way to the  concession stand, there stood Claude Ramsey.  No suit, no tie, just jeans and a comfortable shirt.  “What are you doing here?” I asked.  “Just takin’ a day off to see some baseball, like you,” he replied.  “Ain’t it great?” We both said, “We need to do this together some day.”  We never got around to it, but I wish we had.

Thank you Claude Ramsey.  You left this world a better place than when you found it. Tennessee Valley families are far better off, with much improved places to work and play, thanks to you.

Here is a statement from former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who worked very closely with Claude Ramsey for many years:  “Claude Ramsey was my friend an co-worker in government for decades.  When opportunity knocked for significant economic gains during our respective terms as mayors, I could not have asked for a better partner.  With the support of long-term staff at the city and county, we were able to work together seamlessly.  He was a man of true integrity and reliability, a great traveling companion, and keeper of a rare wit and wisdom.  I shall miss him like a member of my own family.”

Claude Ramsey’s funeral will be held Thursday at 2:00 pm at Bayside Baptist Church on Highway 58.  The family will receive friends from 4:00 pm-8:00 pm on Wednesday, June 20 at Heritage Funeral Home on East Brainerd Road. They will also receive friends prior to the service from 12:00-2:00 pm on Thursday.

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *