FORT VALLEY -- In the new year, 74-year-old John Stumbo starts a new chapter of his life.
He steps out of public office and back into the private sector after serving 16 years as Fort Valley mayor.
His legacy includes a host of major and minor accomplishments, including increasing the city limits through annexation, downtown renovations, streetscaping, and cleaning up an old Superfund site to create Fort Valley Festival Park.
Its easy for me to talk about accomplishments, but I dont really think thats very important at this point, Stumbo said from his office at City Hall. I think whats important is to say thank you for the years, and ... I hope that God will continue to bless this city and that these people here will continue to not be content with mediocrity but strive for excellence in every way whether its the flower gardens or the street lights or whatever it is.
Theres no reason that people in small town Georgia have to settle for mediocrity, and thats been a guiding principle of mine, and I hope that it will continue, he said.
Stumbo lost the November election to 16-year Councilwoman Barbara Williams by 70 votes.
In mid-January, Stumbo plans to open an office at 315 N. Camellia Blvd. in downtown Fort Valley from which hell offer consulting for cities on government, leadership and conflict-resolution issues.
After 16 years, maybe Ive learned a thing or two, he said with a laugh.
Stumbo also plans to write additional installments in a series of study books hes written about the Old Testament. And he expects to continue to serve with nonprofit organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and Fort Valley Cares, which raises funds for those who cannot pay utility bills.
He plans to take his administrative assistant Jo Cobb with him. Shell serve in that same capacity when he opens his consulting office.
Cobb, who worked for a bank before Stumbo asked her to work for him when he was elected mayor, described working for Stumbo and the residents of Fort Valley as amazing. She said it was never a ho-hum job.
Were looking forward to a new chapter, and we think God has bigger and better things for us, she said.
Stumbo moved to Fort Valley in 1989 to marry Helen Rhea Luce-Stumbo. Her grandfather started the Fort Valley-based Blue Bird school bus company. The two met when serving on a global ministry board for the United Methodist Church. He previously practiced and taught law in Topeka, Kan.
Describing himself as a western Yankee, Stumbo said he has learned to love many Southern foods but has not been able develop an affinity for grits.
He is known for sporting bow ties and giving eloquent speeches. His office at City Hall showcases his personality and his faith.
Its a way that I can witness to my faith in a rather subtle way by what I put on my desk, the nativities I put up during Christmas, and the things that are hanging on the wall, Stumbo said. Its been a foundation of my concept of servant leadership. ... It comes out of Christian ethic, so the two kind of go hand and hand.
My office has been my home to the extent that Ive been a full-time mayor. ... Ive tried to decorate it in a way that makes it feel homey and comfortable.
When Stumbo started to carry out a box of his belongings, he confessed that he started to cry. So while he and his wife are away on a previously planned holiday, Stumbo said his executive assistant will see to it that his belongings are boxed up and moved to his new office. His last official day is Sunday.
How he measured as a mayor will be up to others to judge, Stumbo said.
The way I would characterize it is its been an absolute blessing and a privilege, Stumbo said. For people to allow me to serve in this position for that number of years, to give me all the opportunities theyve given me to try to do things to help the city, every day has been an absolute blessing for me.
You know, the time rushes fast, and each one of we politicians would like to retire the day before were defeated, but thats OK. Ive given it my heart and soul, Stumbo said.
Wonders for the city
Fort Valley police Capt. Jerrell Smith, whos been with the city 20 years and heads the criminal investigation division, described Stumbo as a professional, passionate leader who loves they city. He also considers him a friend.
Hes done wonders for the city, Smith said. Hes been a leader. Hes been out in the forefront trying to bridge the gap between the city, the university and other organizations within the city.
Delores Mathis, a custodian in public works whos worked for the city since July, expressed appreciation for not only Stumbo but also his wife.
Hes very kind. He gives. He helps, Mathis said. He has been wonderful for this city, and Im going to miss him. I really am.
Robert Borders, a former police chief who retired after 20 years in 1980, did not work under Stumbo but got to know him through interaction in the close-knit community.
Under his leadership, they have gotten a lot of grants from the government, Borders said. They have improved just about all the departments. Hes made a good leader. Hes made a real good leader.
City Administrator Martha McAfee has worked for Stumbo for 14 years.
Its been different, McAfee said. Ive worked for a lot of elected officials in my lifetime, and he just has a different vision. He tends to look into the future and plan beyond his terms, and thats been like a breath of fresh air.
McAfee recalled a funny story of working with Stumbo during Relay for Life, a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society. It was the first year she came to Fort Valley.
We were out all night long trying to stay awake, and I tried to teach him how to do the hokey pokey dance. He has no rhythm, McAfee joked. Its been great working with him.
Telegraph archives were used in this report. To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.