ALBANY — During the struggle for survival of the region’s greatest natural disaster — and the cleanup that followed — a handful of individuals was at the heart of helping Albany area residents deal with the flood on an hourly basis. Some of those people in high positions who were directing the city at that time have died. Others have moved out of the city and taken new jobs, while others are still here.
Go here to see the 20th anniversary special section on the Flood of 1994.
Assistant City Manager Janice Allen Jackson was in the news constantly, holding news conferences up to four times daily to relay current information from police, fire and other public safety agencies.
After three years in the second seat, Jackson served nine more as city manager before leaving Albany. These days she owns and operates Janice Allen Jackson and Associates, a faith-based management consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C.
“We got to where we hardly even looked at our emergency plans,” said Jackson, now 50, of her updates, “because they changed by the hour. By the end of it all, I was really tired of hearing my own voice.”
Jackson’s boss at the time, City Manager Roy Lane, left Albany in 1996 to accept the city manager position in Spartanburg, S.C., where he died in 2001. According to an article in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, a monument in downtown’s Burnett Park was erected and dedicated to Lane for his service to the city.
Other key figures of the time who have died include then-Albany Mayor Paul Keenan, who died in 2011, and Robert “Bob” Boren, assistant Albany Chief of Police, who maintained a high profile during the disaster. Boren, who died in Albany in 2008, is remembered with the Bob Boren Center, a unit of the Lilly Pad, a nonprofit advocacy center for victims of sexual assault and child abuse.
Boren’s boss in 1994, Police Chief Jack Lumpkin, left Albany in 1997 for Athens-Clarke County, where he is now police chief.
Lumpkin works closely with another key figure from the Southwest Georgia flood, Alan Reddish, who was Dougherty County administrator during the flood. Reddish left Albany in 1997 to become assistant director of the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia. In 2001, he accepted his present position as manager of the Athens-Clarke County unified government.
“Occasionally something will remind me,” Reddish said during a recent phone interview. “Someone will ask if I were there during the flood and that’s when I think about it. If it were going to happen, I’m glad I was there to play what role I could to make things better.”
These days Capt. Eddie Williams is commander of the Governor’s Task Force for Drug Suppression in Georgia, spending many of his work hours in a helicopter, searching for marijuana farms. In July of 1994 he was public information officer of Georgia State Patrol Post 40, appearing before the media daily to deliver timely safety information. He also used his piloting skills to airlift people and equipment across the Flint River.
“Without a helicopter, you’d have to drive something like 40 miles to find a bridge that wasn’t washed out,” Williams said.
Williams still lives in Albany. When driving, Williams said he sometimes ponders “what was there before the flood.”
Trying to stay ahead of the water on the public’s behalf were men like Larry Cook, then assistant director of Dougherty County Public Works, and his counterpart, then Albany Public Works Director Bob Merton.
Cook stayed on to become director of Dougherty County Public Works while Merton left in 1999 to become public works director in Putnam County, Fla. After serving in that position for eight years, Merton worked as facility management director of the Navy Support Facility at Diego Garcia until 2012. Today he lives in the Jacksonville, Fla., area and owns a homeopathic diet plan business.
Phil Roberson was a street supervisor with Albany Public Works in 1994. He’s still around, but now he’s director of Public Works.
Bruce Maples became city engineer on July 6, 1994 — the official first day of the great flood, he said — and endured “trial by water” for that and many days thereafter, as water from the Muckalee Creek rushed to flood the city. Long before the Flint River had come to crest at 43 feet, he was grateful for the help he had around him.
A great deal of that assistance came from John Sperry, the “retiring” city engineer whom Maples had replaced.
“My retirement just didn’t happen,” said Sperry in a recent telephone interview. “Albany has always been my home. I’d been an engineer even before I came to work for the city, doing sewer crossings and pumping stations across the river. I had to do my part.”
Maples is still city engineer and Sperry, 87, is “99 percent retired,” he says, without a crew or even a drawing board. But he keeps his license current and still enjoys occasional engineering jobs.
James Carswell is Albany fire chief now and director of Albany-Dougherty Emergency Management Agency. But when the Flint was overflowing, then Assistant Chief Carswell and firefighter (now Deputy Fire Chief) Ron Rowe were motorboating through the city, rescuing people from rooftops.
“A few of the people didn’t want to be rescued. They thought they’d be OK,” Rowe said. “We got to where we’d make them sign a note and identify their next of kin. That got them in the boat.”
Jim Vaught was a lieutenant colonel and commander of the Defense Logistics Agency at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany in 1994. During a July visit to his parents house in Florida, Vaught said he picked up a newspaper and saw a picture of a John boat pulling a casket. He immediately called MCLB and organized a team of Marines to help with the Albany situation. Vaught is now deputy director of Albany-Dougherty Emergency Management Agency.
Henry Fields, fire chief in 1994, has retired, as has EMS director Bobby Tripp. Both reside in Albany.
Of course, when the waters fell back within their natural boundaries, the job of cleaning up remained.
Judy Bowles, still executive director of what is now Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful, established a command center at the fire department, she said, and on the first day of operations fielded 182 offers to help with the monumental cleanup.
Bowles said that, among other things, the cleanup army gutted countless flood-contaminated houses, stripping off the wallboard, and hauling off more than 900 tons of debris.
“Over a five-week period, we had over 33,000 volunteers to offer their assistance,” Bowles said. “They were all pulling for the community. We required everyone have rubber gloves, hard-soled shoes and a tetanus shot.”
Also, Portia Holmes-Shields, who oversaw the rebuilding of Albany State University after the flood, left Albany and served as president of Tennessee State University. She left Tennessee State, but is still living in Tennessee.