Visionary. Servant-leader. Pillar of the Dawson County community — These are just a few of the most common phrases used to describe Roger Slaton, who died at the age of 80 on Sunday, June 6, 2021.
But for those who worked with and loved Slaton for decades, what will always be remembered is the selflessness and unwavering support for the people of Dawson County that Slaton embodied every day of his life.
Slaton, a lifelong Dawson County resident and leader, who was at one point or another, involved in nearly every facet of life in the local community, leaves behind an unmatched legacy of service and community involvement, according to friends, family and colleagues.
"Roger really was everything we all aspire to be," Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Mandy Power said. "He was born and raised right here in Dawson County ... he raised his family here, he had a small business here, he served in an elected position for the school board ... I think that's what we all look up to."
Slaton, a graduate of Dawson County High School and the University of Georgia, worked as a State Farm Insurance agent for 40 years and served as a chairman of the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce Board in 2005 and 2006.
According to Power and former chamber president Christie Moore, Slaton’s business, Roger Slaton State Farm, was one of the chamber’s oldest members, and as a member, Slaton was a fierce advocate.
“When I think of Roger Slaton, I think of Dawson County, the two are inseparable to me. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger community advocate or personal cheerleader,” Moore said. “When Roger supported you, he was all in and that applied to everything from the Chamber to the Dawson County School System.”
But according to those who knew him best, Slaton’s true passion and calling took root when he got involved in the Dawson County education system.
Since the 1970s, Slaton served on the Dawson County Board of Education, alongside lifelong friend and fellow Board of Education Member Elaine Wilson, who described Slaton as “one of a kind” and one of the most important people in Dawson County’s history.
"I don't know of many people that ever made a bigger impact than Roger on this community," Wilson said in an interview with the Dawson County News. "Roger touched so many different aspects of the community ... whether it was church or school or business or chamber of commerce, Relay for Life, there's just so much that Roger had a hand in."
As a board of education member, Wilson said that Slaton was relentless in his support for students, always judging a decision on whether or not it would help kids in Dawson County.
"He cared about people, he cared about kids, he wanted what was best for everybody around him," she said. "Somebody said 'I don't know who's going to fill his shoes,' and I said 'Nobody will fill his shoes, nobody has feet big enough.’"
Wilson said that after decades of close friendship, talking nearly every day on the phone, Slaton was like a brother to her. His death, she said, is a huge loss to the whole community.
"Other than someone like my mother or my father, nobody's really affected me as much as Roger Slaton," she said. "I've lost some good friends, but Roger was just special."
Beyond his work with the Dawson County Board of Education, Slaton also served on the board of Lanier Technical College and spearheaded efforts to improve the technical college’s offerings in Dawson County.
According to Tim McDonald, president of Lanier Technical College, Slaton saw the true potential of the Dawsonville Lanier Tech Campus and fought for the campus in every way that he could.
"Roger was the sole person who was instrumental in Lanier Tech having a campus location in Dawsonville,” McDonald said. “Such a visionary. He could just see these opportunities and pathways to success for folks. And he did everything he could to make it as simple of a process as he could for everyone."
McDonald believes that Slaton’s work to improve Lanier Tech ultimately impacted the lives of thousands of students and led to skyrocketing growth for the technical college system.
"Anything he was involved with saw growth and expansion," McDonald said. "He certainly leaves a legacy of service at Lanier Technical College … His memory will remain for many many years, but his legacy will always be at Lanier Tech."
A common theme among those who spoke to the DCN about Slaton’s passing was his sense of humor, which was good-natured and nearly always present. Others remembered Slaton’s skill at the piano, which he played often throughout his life at church, events and family gatherings.
"No one could play "Amazing Grace" like Roger Slaton played it," said Lynn Townley, another longtime friend of Slaton and his family.
Townley said that throughout her decades of friendship with Slaton, she was always touched by his selflessness, and the effort he made to support people in his community, whether that be as a business leader and board of education member or as a friend, visiting sick loved ones in the hospital.
"He was a true servant and he loved helping people," she said. "He loved his community and to know Roger was to love Roger."
And for other community leaders in Dawson County and across the state, Slaton’s death marks the passing of an influential mentor in the fields of business, education and public service.
“Roger was a personal friend and mentor,” Dawson County Schools Superintendent Damon Gibbs said in an email to the DCN. “He always made me feel as though my needs were more important than his and was never too busy to invest in me as a person. I will miss his kindness, his smile and his heart for others.”
“Roger was like an uncle to me and my brother and he was the first person to encourage me to join the Dawson County Board of Education,” District 9 State Rep. Will Wade said. “I’m a better person because of Roger’s belief in me and his encouragement throughout my life.”
Funeral services for Slaton will be held at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, at Silver City Baptist Church, 6170 Jewell Bennett Road, Dawsonville.