Former Fort Valley Mayor Paul Reehling, who helped shepherd the city through damage from a massive tornado in 1975, died Monday at age 81.
Reehling’s daughter, Rosemary, said her father had been suffering from kidney failure for the past couple of months.
Reehling served five consecutive two-year terms as mayor from 1970-80. Former Peach County Commission Chairman James Khoury, a close friend of Reehling’s, said the mayor was instrumental in rebuilding downtown Fort Valley after a February 1975 tornado caused $7.5 million in damage.
“I think he was just about the best mayor we’ve ever had,” Khoury said. “Probably his biggest challenge was rebuilding the town (after the tornado). It took a year or two. They redid the streets, the sidewalks. We had parks where we didn’t have them before.”
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Reehling was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and came to Georgia after his parents moved to Columbus. He served as a combat pilot in the Air Force during the end of the Korean War and also flew support missions.
Reehling moved to Fort Valley in the early 1960s after he bought WFPM-AM, which became the city’s leading news station, Khoury said. Reehling’s gift of gab from his radio days earned him the nickname “Old Silver Tongue,” Khoury said.
“He had a great sense of humor,” Khoury said.
Reehling decided not to run for re-election in 1980 when his final term was up, citing the need to spend more time with his business and family. He ran for Congress in 1982, but later dropped out of the race.
Reehling was married to his wife, Mary Jo, for 45 years until her death in 1995. After her death, Reehling bought a house on the Georgia coast, where he could indulge his passion for boating, his daughter said.
Rosemary Reehling was a child during her father’s time as mayor, but said he was “beloved” and did a lot for both the black and white areas of town.
“He paved 21 miles of dirt roads,” she said. “He was a man of his word. ... I’ve had a lot of people tell me he gave them a start in broadcasting.”
Memorial arrangements were pending Monday afternoon.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.