Jimmie Samuel, longtime executive director of the Macon-Bibb County Economic Opportunity Council whose work helping others touched thousands of lives, died Thursday. He was 64.
Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said Samuel died at 1 p.m. at The Medical Center of Central Georgia from an undisclosed illness.
In addition to running the EOC, Samuel was appointed to the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority in late 2011, and he also worked with the 100 Black Men of Macon-Middle Georgia, said Cliffard Whitby, one of Samuels longtime friends who served with him on the Industrial Authority.
Jimmie Samuel was a giant in this community, Whitby said. (Samuels EOC) work was centered on making life better for others. That was his life -- he lived to provide opportunities for others. ... He had deep roots in this community. He will be sorely missed.
Whitby said the word opportunity in Samuels agency is appropriate, because Samuel wanted to give people the opportunity for better lives.
Macon City Councilman Lonnie Miley, president of the EOC board of directors, said the agency knew Samuel was not well.
We had granted him a leave of absence from May to September to deal with his health issues, he said.
Miley said although the agency is being capably run by interim director Sarita Hill, he looked forward to Samuels planned return.
Im going to miss him deeply, he said.
Miley, a board member for 25 years and its president for 10, said he will miss Samuel not only as a collaborator but also as a friend.
Jimmie was a good person, he said. Jimmie believed in what he was doing as director of the Macon-Bibb EOC agency.
The two traveled to state and national meetings together, and they talked often, Miley said.
Miley said he frequently tells people that working on the EOC board is the greatest thing I have done, because of its many services to the community.
That was because of the leadership of Jimmie, Miley said. Samuel served as the EOCs executive director since 1986 and oversaw a staff of 230.
The agency garnered respect for its heating assistance program, support of Head Start and foster grandparent programs, and its work with the state, he said.
According to a biography of Samuel on the website of the Georgia Community Action Association, of which he served as president since 2006, the Macon-Bibb EOCs budget grew under Samuels watch from less than $1 million to more than $12.5 million, all in grants to serve low-income families. The Head Start program grew from 250 children to 760, and Samuel received the National Head Start Administrator of the Year award in 1995.
He also was president of the nonprofit Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development, which joined in the Macon Promise Neighborhood effort seeking to revive the Unionville and Tindall Heights areas.
Before that, he had been the Upward Bound program director at Mercer University, according to his resume posted by the Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development, which works in partnership with the EOC.
He graduated from Mercer with a bachelors degree in biology and psychology in 1971, and received a masters degree in liberal studies from Mercer in 1983, according to the resume.
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart, who worked with Samuel at Mercer, said Samuel was a tireless advocate for equal opportunity.
He made sure everyone had access to the ballot box, Hart said. He worked with students to make sure they had access to a post-secondary education.
Hart said Samuel made sure EOC money was spent appropriately.
When advocating for people, he saw them as people, not as statistics, Hart said. He thought if you make an investment in them, it would pay off.
Whitby said EOC staff members found out about Samuels death early Thursday afternoon.
Its pretty, pretty tough on everybody, he said. The staff is just devastated.
Bentley & Sons Funeral Home has charge of the arrangements.
An official at Bentley & Sons said a memorial service is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Macon City Auditorium.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.