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Folkston councilman-elect dies before taking office

The community lost one of its favorite sons in Raymond Roberts.

FOLKSTON, Ga. — A small town in Georgia is mourning the unexpected loss of a newly-elected councilman.

Folkston, Georgia is just 40 miles north of Jacksonville. Its population is 4,672 and most neighbors know each other.

The community lost one of its favorite sons in Raymond Roberts. 

"He always had a kind word and a smile," said Genitha Singleton. "The biggest thing is he never judged anybody."

Roberts is her uncle and Singleton was his campaign manager.

"Very sad what happened," said Mayor Lee Gowen.

Roberts was a retired family man, an assistant pastor, and President of Folkston's NAACP Chapter for 15 years.

"I have known him as an upstanding man, a very nice guy," said Gowen.

Roberts had stayed away from politics but in 2020 he decided he could be a much-needed voice for the people by being on the city council.

"He told me he did not have an agenda, he just wanted to serve," said Gowen.

Roberts launched his campaign and with the help of Singleton, he registered new voters and got the support he was looking for.

On Nov. 2, the day before the elections, all was well until Roberts suffered a massive stroke and was hospitalized.   

On Election Day, the voters came through in Folkston and elected Roberts as the first African-American to an at-large seat in the city council.  

Roberts was in the hospital during the elections.

"We were initially told he won by three votes, but according to the article that came out yesterday it looks like he won by five, he had 395 and his opponent had 390," said Singleton.

Singleton said a team member went to the hospital and whispered in Roberts' ears he had won.

It was a bittersweet victory, a few hours later Roberts died from his illness on Nov. 4.

"He was special to me," said Singleton.

Gowen said on Friday, the town of Folkston will issue a proclamation in Roberts' name during a viewing of his body.

The Funeral Services are being handled by Royal Funeral Home and are planned for Saturday at St. Mathews Baptist Church in Folkston.

Family and friends say they are doing the best they can with this unexpected loss.

"We were preparing for one kind of celebration the next day and now we are preparing for a different kind of celebration," said Singleton.

She went on to explain that Roberts loved to sing and the celebration of his life and his service will be filled with songs and laughter. 

A special election is being planned to fill the city council at-large seat.

"Just didn't know it was going to happen like that," said Singleton.

Elder Raymond Roberts was 69.