The Dawsonville community continues to mourn the death of a passionate public servant whose political career spanned nearly four decades and paved the way for much of the progress seen across the county today.
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.
Grogan called Cox a man of strength and dedication to his city.
"He [wanted] a city of Dawsonville flag to be placed on top of his casket," Grogan said. "I think that reflects the character of this man that his love for his city he wants to carry with him home."
Grogan will serve 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 1970s.
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," Tanner said. "During his tenure he made numerous contributions that have allowed us to prosper as a community.
"His wisdom and knowledge will be missed by all of us who have known him."
Longtime friend and former planning commissioner Sandy Ward said no one loved Dawsonville and Dawson County the way Cox did.
"He was always so proud to be a resident here, so proud of the history and so proud to give back," Ward said.
As sole commissioner, Cox focused on improving the quality of life in the county and preparing the area for the growth that soon followed. It was during his second term when he presented a controversial and unpopular plan for zoning designations in the county.
"People didn't like that because they were being told what they could or could not do with their property," Ward said. "But Joe Lane had a vision that controlled where the business areas, farming areas and residential areas should be in the county.
"He was a true visionary. He paved the road for so much of the development we enjoy today in Dawson County."
Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Linda Williams said Cox had a gift "for seeing what was possible for our community if the right groundwork was laid in preparation."
"Dawsonville, our region and our state has lost a great leader," she said. "He knew everyone needed to accept the fact that growth would come no matter what we did or did not do. He said it was our responsibility as a community to prepare and guide the growth so that it would be of a positive and quality nature."
His work and vision were recognized many times throughout his political career locally, regionally and statewide.
He was also responsible for securing grants that allowed the county to build the senior center, open a day care facility and establish the first fire station, among other projects.
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 as mayor.
During his tenure, Cox secured 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.
In September 2010, the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission named a conference room at the Gainesville center in honor of Cox's "exceptional service."
Cox had served the 13-county body as chairman for three terms, from 1987-89, when he was Dawson County's sole commissioner, and again from 2005-06 as mayor.
Cox, who was unable to attend the ceremony due to his health, later echoed words he often said when receiving recognition.
"I'm honored they would do something like that. I'm really not deserving. I just did what I thought I had to do," Cox said.
Ward said he made a similar comment 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."
"That really touched him," Ward said. "There was a ceremony, and I remember him saying he was undeserving of such an honor. He was very proud of that legacy."
During an October interview with Dawson Community News, 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 fall 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, and Julie and Michael Self of Dahlonega; six grandchildren and a great granddaughter.
Funeral services were held Sunday at Bearden Funeral Home Chapel with the Rev. Kenny Williamson officiating.
Private interment services followed in Dawsonville Memorial Gardens.
According to the obituary, in lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to Dahlonega Church of God, 4 Happy Hollow Road, Dahlonega, GA 30533.