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Ralston remembered at Georgia Capitol

Speaker lies in state, well wishers pay respects

ATLANTA — Tuesday, friends and state officials mourned the death of House Speaker David Ralston – who died last week at age 68.  

Ralston’s stature at the Capitol was evident with the placement of his coffin in the Capitol Rotunda -- and the treatment he got from friends and political rivals.

Eight state troopers carried the Georgia-flag draped casket up an outdoor walkway and then into the State Capitol – accompanied by Governor Brian Kemp, his family and the family of the late speaker. Ralston, a Republican, had been Georgia’s House Speaker since 2010.  

He died last week after a lengthy illness – too soon for his many admirers in both parties at the Capitol.

"He kept the ship afloat, kept it in the middle of the stream, because he was a strong leader," said state Rep. Al Williams (D) Midway. "But he was a leader that would listen. And he had a lot of compassion."

Kemp was among the hundreds of people who paid their respects to Ralston’s family in the Capitol Rotunda. "At times, he governed the House with an iron fist but also with a big soft heart. That is why he was so respected and admired," Kemp said from a podium, addressing well-wishers.

Another was former Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle – who presided over the state senate for twelve years. He remembered a friendly rivalry between the two chambers and its two GOP leaders. "Political theater is always a part of politics. There was a lot of it while I was Lieutenant Governor and he was speaker. And we never let that stand in the way of a deep friendship," Cagle told 11Alive News. Cagle’s appearance at the Capitol was his first since losing a GOP primary for governor more than four years ago.  

He was among those who admired Ralston’s human touch in the sometimes messy business of politics.

"He was certainly at times a mentor to me. I tried to be an advisor, as it were, to him," said Ralston's second-in-command, Rep. Jan Jones (R) Milton. "He could be tough in dealing with hard issues. And you need to be tough because you're affecting the lives of eleven million people. And he took it seriously."

Jones was elected Speaker Pro Tem when Ralston was elected speaker almost eleven years ago. She is now technically the house speaker – though she’ll turn the gavel over to state Rep. Jon Burns (R- Newington) when the House reconvenes in January. With Jones' support, the majority House GOP caucus chose Burns last week.

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