SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Former Chatham County commission chairman Pete Liakakis passed away Thursday night at age 90, according to Fox & Weeks obituary. The funeral home says he died surrounded by his family.
Liakakis was a longtime personal bodyguard and friend of late Hollywood star Burt Reynolds. Liakakis served on several community and governmental boards, ran political campaigns and co-founded Savannah Responds to assist those in crisis.
Local leaders are remembering Liakakis as a tireless public servant, known for seemingly being in more than one place at the same time. A true man of the people, if there was an event happening in Chatham County you could count on Pete Liakakis to be there.
“People say, you know, they say I’ve got a clone,” Liakakis said. “You’ve heard that before.”
“When was the last time you took a vacation?” WSAV’s Andrew Davis asked during a 2012 interview with Liakakis.
“About 18 years ago,” Liakakis responded.
At the time of that interview, Liakakis was ending his second and final term as chairman of the Chatham County Commission. In 2012, he was recognized for his lifetime of achievement in public and community service with the dedication of the Pete Liakakis Government Building in downtown Savannah.
“My leadership helped many innovative and creative things in the county, and helped keep the commission in a positive way,” Liakakis said.
“I had the pleasure of working with that man for eight years, and it was truly an honor to work with him,” said Dean Kicklighter, District 7 Commissioner.
Kicklighter said he and Liakakis disagreed on many issues, but he always respected his dedication to the people of Chatham County.
“It was obvious to me that Pete cared about our county, and that Pete, although it may be a different opinion than mine, Pete truly believed that he was doing what was in the best interest of the whole county,” Kicklighter said.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who served as vice-chair of city council after Liakakis held the position, says the Savannah native was hardwired for service.
“He was always engaging, helping people,” Johnson said. “I remember when we had flooding in Savannah on the westside, and he came up, showed up with a canoe and he was out there getting people out of there. He was just a force of nature unto himself.”
He was an active member of countless organizations and government boards. He was also an entrepreneur and earned black belts in Karate and Kung Fu, serving as Burt Reynolds’s personal bodyguard for many years.
“They said he was walking around always armed and stuff. So ya know, he wasn’t really the one you really wanted to mess with either,” Johnson said.
And before largely stepping away from public life, he spoke to News 3 of a life well lived with few if any regrets, and what he hoped would be the lasting legacy of his service.
“It might stimulate somebody else to do what I’ve done,” Liakakis said. “Well, why don’t I do those things? Why don’t I run for office? Why don’t I help people? If people even in a little way will reach out to help one another, we would be a much better society. Showing your love, it makes a difference.”
“#Savannah has lost a true giant in the passing of my friend and community champion, Chairman Pete Liakakis,” Mayor Van Johnson wrote in a tribute on Facebook. Liakakis preceded Johnson as vice chair on city council and later served two terms as Chatham County Commission Chairman.
Liakakis was “infamously known for being more than one place at the same time as he actively served many, many causes,” Johnson continued. “My prayers are extended to his beloved wife, Mary Jean, his son, Toney, his family and Savannah’s Greek Community. Rest well deserved, my friend.”
Liakakis was born in the Hostess City on Jan. 9, 1932. The lifetime member of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church graduated from Savannah High School. He then enlisted into the Air Force and trained in communications, Fox and Weeks said.
Liakakis is survived by his wife Mary Jean and their son Toney.
Rep. Carl Gilliard emailed the following statement to media Friday afternoon.
“Today we have truly lost a giant in American history Pete Liakakis was America and Pete Liakakis exemplified the embodiment of servitude to all races. He always said, “We are our brothers keeper!” Pete Liakakis was truly our brothers keeper. He looked out for the loss the least and the left out. We are going to miss this impeccable leader who continued to serve Savannah Georgia and America. His efforts for disaster relief, in the areas of the jaws of life to save lives, his efforts to feed and send rescue supplies to the major disasters all over the nation. His efforts to help me Feed the Hungry. He was my mentor and my friend. We are truly gonna miss him. But most of all he was a servant to America.”
A viewing will be held on April 19 at 5 p.m. at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church on West Anderson Street. The funeral service will be held at the same church the following day at 11 a.m.