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Editor's notes: One of those guys you liked
editor's notes

I was going to write about traffic this week. Then George Saraf died.

Saraf was mayor of Rincon when I first started in this business back in 1995, and I was working for the Effingham Herald.

Then, like now, I wrote an occasional column.

Then, like now, they didn’t make much sense.

Once I wrote that the old rickety house on Highway 21 housing the Herald’s offices was haunted and it was giving me the willies.

When I got to the city council meeting not long after that issue hit the press, George was ready for me.

“Man,” he said, looking at me and shaking his head. “You’re crazy. Man, you crack me up with that stuff you write.”

And then he cracked up, right there at his seat behind the raised platform where the council members sat. It was a big laugh, because he was a big man with a gravelly Savannah voice and a straight-shooting working man’s way of talking, and he’d laugh in a heartbeat. And he was always unfailingly kind. To me, and to my wife, when he’d see her around town.

He was just one of those guys you liked.

Unless you were a builder or developer.

They didn’t like George, or maybe they liked him but they didn’t like his policies.

George wanted to slow roll growth, you see, because even back then he saw what was already happening. He saw the light at the other end of the tunnel was probably a train.

Or a semi.

In a wonderful 2007 story written by the Effingham Herald reporter Ralna Pearson, George, who by then had been out of office for two years after serving three consecutive terms as mayor, called it like he felt it as he declared he was running for city council.

I’m borrowing from that story now, because for me it pretty much summed up the George I knew. It’s in italics: “The homebuilders in Georgia put me out of office — the ones in Atlanta, the ones in Savannah, the ones in Effingham County,” he pointed out. “They thought I was the one keeping them from getting water — well, surprise, it was (the Environmental Protection Division).”

Unafraid to offend or alienate, Saraf calls the shots as he sees them.

“I like to get in there and play devil’s advocate sometimes, ask questions that nobody else wants to ask, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

“The politician’s job is not to get re-elected, it’s to do the best job he can at the cheapest price for the most people.”

In that same 2007 story, Saraf, a Benedictine graduate and Navy veteran who worked for Gulfstream, moved to Rincon in 1968 and raised a family, was quoted taking issue with those who say you can’t control growth.

“You need to control it because if you don’t, it’ll take away your quality of life,” he said. “It’s happening, man. We need to keep what we got; that’s what it’s all about.”

Saraf is clear about what he wants to accomplish if elected again.

“I feel like somebody needs to be watching the doggone farm, and I consider myself being another vote on the table that goes with the other side of the table,” he said. “You know, I ain’t got no ax to grind with nobody. I just like to make sure that what we’re doing is what we need to do. And that’s the whole point. I don’t want to just say ‘I can afford it so I think everybody else can’. No. I been down that road when you’re hungry and I know what it feels like. I want to ask the hard questions.”

In 2007 George was 69. He’d been married for 42 years and had two daughters, plus a handful of grandchildren. He told the paper: “I tell everybody me and my wife found out what was causing them and quit,” he laughed.

George didn’t get elected to council, but he wasn’t done wanting to ask the hard questions. In 2009 he ran against incumbent mayor Ken Lee, manager of the town’s Kroger, and lost.

If I’d had a vote, I would’ve voted for George. I told him so one day in Walmart as my wife and I were standing in line to check out and he walked past. He stopped and laughed and shrugged and asked how we were doing and if I was still writing crazy things for a newspaper. It strikes me now he might be a shade too much himself to be in office, what with image consultants and political correctness and the way the nabobs on social media habitually turn molehills into mountains and give too many of today’s public servants rabbit ears.

Their loss, in the end. George went on being George. He played guitar and sang, performing country music at festivals and the like. He raised a family. He served his country and later, his community, whether they appreciated it or not. He also saw the future better than he probably realized.

He was the best mayor Rincon ever had.

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