PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (WSAV) – Port Wentworth Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Johnson passed away Sunday night due to “unexpectedly severe” complications from a recent illness.
She was 47 years old with two grown children.
The City of Port Wentworth made the announcement Monday and expressed sympathies to Johnson’s family and the entire community.
“Debbie was a larger-than-life figure who brought her remarkable energy to giving a voice to those unheard individuals who she so passionately represented,” the statement read.
Representatives from Port Wentworth and surrounding areas held a press conference to address Johnson’s passing on Monday afternoon.
Mayor Gary Norton called her a “giver” and praised her commitment to the community. Johnson’s fellow council members agreed.
“One thing I can always say about her… she was loyal to this city,” Glenn Jones, District 4 council member said.
Johnson was serving her second term and was a single mom who advocated for her community, according to the City of Port Wentworth website. She was passionate about being a voice of unheard individuals and made fundamental rights and equality her top priorities.
Johnson was one of the first African American women elected to the Port Wentworth City Council and was an employee of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department for 17 years.
Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter said he remembers Johnson always having a smile on her face.
“The Savannah Police Department family stands with you,” Minter said, addressing Johnson’s family and Port Wentworth representatives.
On Monday, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson remembered Johnson as passionate and strong, calling her “a force of nature”.
She was a force of nature,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson. “She was someone that you could not. You better lead, follow or get out the way when it came to her.”
“Debbie was my rock,’ said Port Wentworth Councilman Thomas Barbee. “She was my inspiration for getting into politics in the first place.”
While her politics didn’t line up with everyone on council they all respected her drive and determination.
“Sometimes Debbie and I disagreed political wise but one thing I can say about her is she was loyal to this city, and I was loyal to her,” said Port Wentworth Councilman and Former Mayor Glenn Jones.
“Debbie was a friend of mine and in this world you don’t have too many of them,” said Councilman Mark Stephens. “You don’t have too many of them that at the drop of a hat will get your back and she’s done that for me on more than one occasion.”
Johnson was also an advocate for HB-109, or the “Up-skirting Bill”, to make up-skirting women a crime punishable by law. She was recognized by many organizations for her involvement in fighting hunger in her community.
“I know for her at the end of the day she left it all out on the field,” said Mayor Johnson. “She had nothing left to give.”
“I’m here because of her. and going forward I will go on because of her,” said Stephens. “I miss you and you were one hell of a friend. Thank you”
Mayor Norton will be appointing a replacement for Johnson’s seat in the next few months.
No cause of death or funeral arrangements have been announced yet for Johnson.
More information about her career and legacy can be found on the City of Port Wentworth website, here.