ATLANTA (WSAV) — Speaker of the Georgia House of Representative David Ralston, 68, has died, according to the Georgia House of Representatives.
Ralston, who was the 73rd Speaker of the House, died following a battle with “an extended illness.” His wife Sheree, children and other family members were with him when he passed.
Ralston was the country’s longest currently-serving state house speaker, Georgia House of Representatives said. Ralston represented Georgia’s seventh House district.
“Today we have lost a gentleman’s giant of the House of Representatives, Speaker Ralston has been a tremendous leader that has been bipartisan,” Rep. Carl Gilliard told WSAV. He has been a leader in the areas of mentorship for the entire House. We send our prayers as the gentle giant of the Georgia General Assembly rests peacefully.”
Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) will become the 74th Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and serve until the term ends in January, according to the Georgia House of Representatives. However, Republicans nominated Jon Burns of Newington to replace Ralston when the newly elected General Assembly convenes Jan. 9, an effort at continuity supported by Ralston’s closest allies.
Gov. Brian Kemp ordered flags flown at half-staff until Ralston is buried and said his body will lie in repose at the Georgia Capitol.
“Our state lost one of its true giants,” Kemp said in a statement.
“Georgia has lost a titan of our political world, and, more importantly, I have lost a dear friend,” Burns said in a statement. “As a leader, Speaker Ralston was selfless and brave – always willing to place the good of Georgians ahead of his own personal gain. As a friend, he was fiercely loyal – always willing to provide wise counsel and support. Our state will miss him greatly. I will miss him always.”
Ralston announced Nov. 4 that he would not seek reelection due to health concerns.
“Serving as speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives has been the honor of a lifetime, and I owe a heartfelt thank you to my colleagues for the trust and confidence they placed in me thirteen years ago,” Ralston said in a statement at that time. “I need to take time to address a health challenge which has arisen recently, and the House needs a speaker who can devote the necessary time and energy to the office.”
Several other high-profile Georgia politicians released statements expressing sorrow for Ralston’s passing:
“I am praying for Speaker Ralston’s family and his loved ones during this difficult time,” Sen. Raphael Warnock tweeted. “May his example of leadership and civility endure through the lives he touched.
“Julie and I are heartbroken to learn about the passing of Speaker David Ralston,” Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker said. “Speaker Ralston cared deeply about Georgia, fought for what he believed and delivered. He accomplished so much and his impact will be felt for generations. We are praying for Sheree and his family.”
“A committed public servant, and remarkable Georgian, he will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his loving wife, Sheree, along with the rest of his family,” Rep. Buddy Carter tweeted.
“Today, Georgia has lost a true statesman,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr tweeted. “David Ralston’s wisdom was surpassed by only by the kindness he showed others, and I feel blessed to have called him my friend.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.