The Dawsonville community is mourning the death of a passionate public servant whose political career spanned nearly four decades.
Mayor Joe Lane Cox died Friday in his sleep at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. He was 72.
News of his death traveled quickly through the tightknit community, where Cox had served as mayor since January 2004.
"Our city is in mourning," said Councilman James Grogan. "Our prayers are with his family."
Cox, whose health had been in decline the last few years, was three months into his third term at the time of his death.
Grogan called Cox a man of strength and dedication to his city.
"He wants a city of Dawsonville flag to be placed on top of his casket. I think that reflects the character of this man that his love for his city he wants to carry with him home," said Grogan, who is serving as mayor until the council makes a decision on how to move forward.
Prior to being elected mayor, Cox led Dawson County as sole commissioner from 1981 to 1992 and also served as the county's probate judge for three years in the late 70s.
Dawson County Manager Kevin Tanner said the community has lost a "true pioneer" whose leadership played a vital role in shaping the county for future generations.
"Most of my life Joe Lane Cox has been a fixture in Dawson County Government. During his tenure he made numerous contributions that have allowed us to prosper as a community," Tanner said. "His wisdom and knowledge will be missed by all of us who have known him."
As sole commissioner, Cox focused on improving the quality of life in Dawson County and preparing the area for the growth that soon followed.
It was during his second term that Dawson County developed zoning codes, an unpopular agenda item for many residents.
"But he saw the need for it. He had a vision for Dawson County that he believed would be beneficial as the county grew," said first cousin Gordon Pirkle. "It was a very unpopular idea, but Joe Lane realized how important it was. He was never one to back down if he believed in something."
He was also responsible for securing grants that allowed the county to construct the senior center, open a daycare facility and establish the first fire station, among others. He also expanded the county's park and added amenities like a track, pavilion and gymnasium.
Cox's passion for his community was also evident in the mayoral capacity.
As mayor, Cox applied and received grants to improve the city's wastewater treatment capabilities, fund several road projects, purchase the defunct Thunder Road racing museum and put in sidewalks through the city.
"He was so proud of the sidewalks," Pirkle said. "I think the sidewalks are definitely one of the legacies that he was most proud of."
Another would be the honor he received in October 1992 when the state transportation board adopted a resolution to name the crossing at Hwy. 53 and Ga. 400 the "Joe Lane Cox Intersection."
"So much of the work he did is what brought the development that's in Dawson County now," Pirkle said. "That was a well-deserved honor."
During an interview last October, Cox said his goal from the beginning was to leave Dawsonville and Dawson County better than he found it.
The voters allowing him to run unopposed last November made him "feel good that I must have done a pretty good job."
Cox is survived by his wife of 53 years Judy Cox, daughters and sons in law, Jill Reeves, Joy Harben and Frankie Aviles, all of Dawsonville, Julie and Michael Self, of Dahlonega, six grandchildren and a great granddaughter.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Bearden Funeral Home Chapel.
The Rev. Kenny Williamson will officiate. Private interment services will be held in Dawsonville Memorial Gardens.
The family will receive friends from 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the funeral home.
According to the obituary, donations are asked to be sent to Dahlonega Church of God, 4 Happy Hollow Road, Dahlonega, GA 30533, in lieu of flowers.