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‘Georgia giant’ Johnny Isakson dies at 76
Johnny Isakson

by Dave Williams | Capitol Beat News Service

Former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson died Sunday at the age of 76, his family and the foundation he started to raise money for Parkinson’s disease announced.

The Republican from Cobb County retired from the Senate at end of 2019 due to Parkinson’s and other health issues, the only Georgian to have served in both chambers of Congress and the General Assembly.

“We are grateful for everyone’s prayers as we mourn the loss of our father,” said Isakson’s oldest son, John Isakson.

Isakson was elected to the Senate in 2004 after serving five years in the U.S. House, where he succeeded former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Before that, he was chairman of the Georgia Board of Education, appointed by then-Gov. Roy Barnes,

The owner of a real estate business, Isakson was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1976, where he served as minority leader, and was instrumental in building the state’s Republican Party.

Isakson went on to serve in the Georgia Senate after an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1990. He made another run at the Governor’s Mansion in 1996 but came up short in the Republican primary.

In an era of increasing partisanship in Washington, Isakson was known for reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats. He played a leading role in the No Child Left Behind education reform legislation in 2001 while a member of the House and improved the law during his time in the Senate.

Also in the Senate, Isakson as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee worked to better the lot of the nation’s veterans, championing legislation to improve health care and other benefits for veterans.

“Georgia has lost a giant, one of its greatest statesmen, and a servant leader dedicated to making his state and country better than he found it,” Gov. Brian Kemp said Sunday.

“Johnny Isakson … answered the call to public service many times over his career as a state legislator, minority leader in the Georgia House, chair of the state Board of Education, congressman, and finally as senator.

“His work to champion our veterans, deliver disaster relief for Georgia farmers after Hurricane Michael, and always stand up for Georgia’s best interest in the U.S. Senate will live on for generations to come.”

“Senator Isakson was a statesman who served Georgia with honor,” added U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga. “He put his state and his country ahead of self and party, and his great legacy endures.”

After retiring from Congress, Isakson founded the Isakson Initiative to raise awareness and funding for research related to neurocognitive diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and related dementia.

Funeral arrangements will be shared when they are finalized.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.