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Apr. 5—Ralph Morgan thought "Varnell was the greatest city on the planet," said former Whitfield County Board of Commissioners chairman Mike Babb. "It was his brand, and he was its biggest advocate."
Morgan, who passed away Saturday at the age of 88, was one of a small group of residents who organized and lobbied the state legislature to incorporate Varnell as a city in 1968. And in 1968, at the first City Council meeting, council members named Morgan city judge, a post he would hold for 18 years. During the next 38 years, he would hold a number of city posts, the most prominent of which were director of finance and 12 years as city manager.
"We really birthed a city, the first few officials," Morgan said at his retirement as city manager in 2006. "Very few people get to do that, and this has really been an honor."
The city started out with no money, and city officials pitched in to collect garbage until they could afford to hire people for the job. Morgan drove the truck, while then-Mayor Lindsey Metcalf and then-council member Bill Morgan (Ralph's son) rode on the back and picked up the trash.
"I never will forget, seems like it was December that we launched it, and it was spitting snow," Ralph Morgan said. "The three of us picked up garbage in this city every Saturday for two years."
Morgan never accepted any pay for his work with the city. In fact, he donated an 11,000-square-foot building that served as City Hall for many years.
"My heart has always been in this community," Morgan said in 2006. "I was born in this community, and I've lived in this community my whole life, except when I was in the Air Force in the Korean War and when I was in college after the war."
Morgan started his own company, which provided industrial supplies to the carpet industry, in 1966. In 1986, he sold that company and retired from the supply business.
Babb dealt with Morgan often during Babb's first time as commission chairman from 1997 to 2004.
"If Ralph told you something, you could count on it," he said. "He and I didn't always agree. But I always knew where I stood with him. He wasn't someone who tried to go in through the back door to get things done. He always came in through the front door."
Varnell Mayor Tom Dickson, a long-time friend of Morgan, said it's hard to imagine Varnell without Morgan.
"Ralph Morgan was a very generous man, with his city, his community and his church," he said. "He leaves behind a tremendous legacy, and his family is still in Varnell and active in the city."
A memorial service will be at Varnell United Methodist Church on Friday at 2 p.m. Visitation will be one hour prior to the service.