published Friday, February 1st, 2013

Gene Roberts remembered as 'honorable man'


by Cliff Hightower
  • photo
    Past and current Chattanooga mayors Pat Rose, Gene Roberts and Ron Littlefield, from left, mark the 120 year celebration of the Walnut Street Bridge in February 2011.
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
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Former Chattanooga Mayor Gene Roberts was remembered Thursday as "an honorable man" who was well respected.

Dalton Roberts, a former Hamilton County executive who worked with Gene Roberts in the 1980s, said the former mayor set a new standard for integrity in city government.

"I thought the world of him," Dalton Roberts said. "I loved the man."

Gene Roberts died Thursday morning. He was 80 years old.

He grew up in Onion Bottom, a downtown neighborhood in the area of today's Chattanooga Community Kitchen, and served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He later worked as an editorial writer for the Chattanooga Times. Roberts left the newspaper to become public relations spokesman for former Chattanooga Mayor P.R. "Rudy" Olgiati.

He first entered politics in 1971 when he ran against former Fire and Police Commissioner James "Bookie" Turner. Roberts won that race and served as commissioner for two terms. In 1979, then-Gov. Lamar Alexander appointed him as administrator of the Tennessee Department of Safety.

Roberts then ran for Chattanooga mayor in 1983 when former Mayor Pat Rose retired. He served four terms and retired in 1997. During his terms, he helped oversee a complete change in government as the city went from the old commission form of government to a mayor-city council form.

He also helped start the downtown renaissance and advocated the merger of Chattanooga and Hamilton County schools.

Mayor Ron Littlefield said he always looked up to Roberts because of his humble roots and political victory over political legend Turner.

"I was in awe of the man," Littlefield said.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Thursday in a statement that Roberts "served the people of Tennessee with integrity and vision. As mayor, his leadership was pivotal in helping Chattanooga become one of America's most admired cities."

J.B. Collins, who covered Roberts for the Chattanooga Free Press, said he had great respect for the former mayor. He noted Roberts is the only Chattanooga mayor in history to serve under two different forms of government.

"He was an honorable man, and I never knew of anyone questioning his integrity," Collins said.

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