Former House Speaker David Ralston remembered in Capitol ceremony
If you visited the Georgia state Capitol during legislative session in the past 12 years, you'd likely hear former House Speaker David Ralston's booming voice fill the chamber and spill out in the rotunda, asking members if they had entered their votes on various bills and resolutions, congratulating them on birthdays and milestones and joyously exclaiming "Sine Die!" at the end of each session.
When the Blue Ridge Republican entered the Capitol one last time Tuesday to lie in state after his death Wednesday, Nov. 16 at the age of 68, scores of people filled up the space with their own voices and tears to honor his legacy. Friends, family; Republicans, Democrats; press and public gathered to pay respects to one of the most powerful politicians in Georgia's history.
"I'm told that Speaker Ralston always felt a sense of awe every time he entered the Capitol," Gov. Brian Kemp said during a brief ceremony Tuesday. "Today, we all feel that sense of awe in the presence of this departed friend and servant of the people."
Ralston will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda through Wednesday morning before visitation and a funeral service in his home of Blue Ridge. Dozens of lawmakers, staff and friends were on hand as his casket was escorted via honor guard into the Capitol Tuesday morning.
Ralston presided over a state that saw itself frequently in the spotlight at the forefront of political and demographic change, in good economic times and bad, and deftly navigated both controversial and celebrated legislation that left lawmakers from across the spectrum feeling acknowledged and affirmed, even if not acquiesced to or accomodated.
State Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the state House, considered Ralston a dear friend.
"We spent many, many conversations together talking about the things that relate itself to public policy in Georgia, and through it all we had a great relationship," he said. "I worked with him on issues that were transformational and very weighty issues, and although we had some differences, but were never disagreeable."
In recent years, Ralston helped shepherd bipartisan legislation to reform mental health care in Georgia, enact a hate crimes law and repeal the state's citizens arrest law after the murder of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick as well as Georgia's strict abortion law, sweeping election rules changes and other conservative-minded policies.
Kemp called the former speaker a "commanding authority" and "determined fighter" who would always show you respect, "and when the fighting is done, shake your hand."
Smyre recalled a time when he originally planned to retire from being a lawmaker several years back and Ralston encouraged him to stay and work together on legislation, despite party differences and an increasingly rancorous national political environment.
"And two things that we talked about: one was civility, and one was tolerance of one's opinion," he said. "So those two items were what come to mind when it deals with Speaker Ralston. And although there were major differences under the Gold Dome, there was a sense of civility that you could disagree without being disagreeable."
Funeral services will be held Sunday, Nov. 27, at the Blue Ridge Performing Arts Center.