Longtime Monroe County Commissioner Jim Ham was killed in a single-car accident on U.S. 41 on Friday afternoon.
Ham was headed home from Forsyth, where he was among many who lined the town’s streets to show support for his alma mater, Mary Persons High School. The football team left at noon for Cartersville to play in the state semifinals.
Ham was at the wheel of his maroon Ford F-250 truck, headed southbound on the highway just a quarter-mile from home, when he apparently lost control of his truck on a curve near Woodward Road about 12:45 p.m. The truck hit a ditch and overturned, a news release from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. Ham was dead when deputies got to the scene.
The 55-year-old beef cattle farmer had served on the county commission since 1987 and had recently been re-elected for another four-year term. He was chairman of the commission from 1992-1996.
Flags at county buildings were at half-mast Friday evening as the county mourned.
“This county is going to miss him truly, just because of the things that he did that people did not know was done for them,” lifelong friend Butch Copelan said. “He got things done.”
Overalls were a signature of the commissioner, an outfit choice Copelan said caused some to underestimate Ham’s intelligence.
“They were always very comfortable for him to wear, being a big man like he was,” Copelan said. “When he had his new ones on, everybody would know it and kid him about it.”
Contemplation time for Ham often took place at his farm, in his overalls, sitting on his tractor, Copelan said.
“You could always tell when he came in that he’d been on the tractor for the last two days because he was always up to these ideas and different things,” Copelan said. “From the county to the cows to the hospital ... That’s where he regenerated and refreshed his memory.”
Ham played key roles in the success of the local workforce development program, senior citizens center and head start program, said Commissioner Larry Evans, who served on the commission with Ham since 1987.
“He was a people person, a joyous person and a person that was always kidding and having fun, but also had a serious side,” Evans said. “He was a hard worker. We’ve watched Monroe County transform quite a bit since we went in office.”
Ham, who studied at the University of Georgia, was also instrumental in having many of the county’s roads paved and was a leader who was a former president of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia’s board of managers.
Though Evans said he and Ham had disagreements from time to time, Evans knew Ham had the county’s best interest at heart.
“He worked hard to change Monroe County in a positive way,” Evans said. “He knew how to work with his constituents.”
Monroe County attorney and cattle farmer James Vaughn said Ham was “a great public servant who helped a lot of people. That’s the best way I can describe him.”
Ham had a special place in his heart for his homeland.
“He was a farmer and he lived and worked here,” Vaughn said. “I think he would say he was lucky to be in Monroe County, and I’d agree with him.”
Another close friend of Ham was Houston County Commissioner Tom McMichael, who said Ham was a person who would always think things through before making a decision.
“He was just a good person, someone you could always count on,” McMichael said. “He was a person when you needed an answer you knew it as coming from his heart and his head. It was coming from all the right places.”
Ham was past president of the Monroe County Farm Bureau, past chairman of the Mid-Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, past chairman of the Towaliga Soil & Water Conservation District, and also was on the Middle Ocmulgee Regional Planning Commission, according to a news release from the board of commissioners.
Ham’s “dry humor and presence will be missed in the county offices,” the release said.
Ham’s death was not only felt on a local level but also statewide and beyond, said Association County Commissioners of Georgia Executive Director Ross King.
In 2007, Ham received the Emory Greene award — the highest honor bestowed upon anyone serving in the commissioners association. Ham was also involved with the National Association of Counties.
“(The award) magnified how much we loved and cared for Jim and his dear wife, Lydia,” King said.
“He was magnetic and gregarious,” King said. “It was impossible to meet this giant of a public servant and not be struck by his presence and his commitment and passion for his community.”