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I'll miss 'my Georgia father'

Wayne Shackelford left this world on Tuesday but lives on in the hearts of countless leaders who benefited from his incredible mentorship - a group I am proud to count myself among. Wayne and I were so close, I called him "my Georgia father."

Born the son of a sharecropper in Carroll County in 1933, Wayne found himself plowing behind a mule like many Georgia farmers in the 1930s and '40s. Far from humbling him, the experience instilled in him an intense love of the land - and of Georgia. I once asked "Shack," as he was known to many, whether he considered himself a Republican or a Democrat. He answered, "Neither, I am a Georgian!"

Wayne began his career as a County Agricultural Extension Agent, ultimately locating in Gwinnett County. He promoted agriculture, livestock and Georgia 4-H, and led groups that created cattle shows and 4-H events nationwide. He knew more about crops and livestock than anyone in Georgia. In fact, he had a photographic memory and could recall nearly every detail about every project in which he was involved, going back 50 years - not only the size of a sewerage treatment plant, road project, or church expansion, but also who sold the land, the price, date of the purchase, exact capacity (in gallons, cars per hour or square footage) and the benefits of the project.

Shack's talent did not go unnoticed in Gwinnett. He became the county's top administrator and, with a visionary County Commission, was responsible for the creation of the infrastructure that allowed Gwinnett to thrive in the '80s and '90s.

In 1991, I was proud to serve in the Georgia Legislature and be part of the group that supported Wayne's appointment as commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation. Our friendship deepened over breakfast each Saturday and through cooperating on many of the same projects. His accomplishments as DOT commissioner included the planning that enabled Atlanta to smoothly handle the massive 1996 Olympics. One of his many transportation visions was the interchange at Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 316 in Gwinnett County, named in his honor two years ago.

After leaving the DOT in 2000, Wayne became even more involved in his community. The spark that led to the creation of Gwinnett's community improvement districts came from Wayne over breakfast at AJ's in Snellville. Much of the vision for the revitalization of Lawrenceville originated in our conversations. He was instrumental in the formation of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful. Wayne was the brain behind the Brain Train commuter rail line that will go from Athens to Atlanta to Macon and will one day lead to commuter rail spokes that will efficiently move people all over Georgia. Throughout his career, Wayne worked to improve every part of transportation. He considered roads to be just one part of the puzzle and constantly pushed for improved rail, airports, shipping, public transit and walkable communities.

As Wayne's lung disease progressed, I pondered what made him such a great leader, mentor and visionary. He always gave credit for his success to Anna, his incredible wife of almost 50 years, an accomplished leader and visionary in her own right.

Wayne also gave credit to God.

I believe the reason Wayne was so successful was that he did not put himself in the center of his world. Wayne put his church, his family and his community at the center of his world, before himself - always. He considered his talent to be a gift from God, and I believe his incredible leadership was his way of serving God.

We could use a lot more leaders like him.

Emory Morsberger is a Lilburn resident and an Atlanta and Gwinnett redeveloper.