Longtime Forest Park City Council Ward 4 Representative Donald Judson died suddenly early Friday morning at his home, officials said.
Judson celebrated his 80th birthday last month, and was on the ballot for Tuesday's municipal election. He was nearing the end of his third term in office.
Forest Park City Manager John Parker said the city is saddened by the news. "We are all saddened by the passing of Donald Judson of Ward 4," said Parker. "It's quite a shock. He will be missed."
Parker said visitation will be Sunday, from 2 p.m., to 5 p.m., at Scroggs Funeral Home, in Morrow. Funeral services will be Monday at 11 a.m., at Judson's home church, First Baptist in Forest Park. Interment will follow at Forest Hills Cemetery in Forest Park.
Parker said Judson attended a residents' meeting Thursday at City Hall at about 8:30 p.m. Judson invited Parker to join him and his female companion for dinner, but Parker declined.
About 11 p.m., Judson and his friend stopped at Forest Park Fire Department Station 2, because he was having chest pains. "He wanted to get his blood pressure checked," said Parker. "Everything was within limits, but they wanted him to go into the hospital to be checked. He said no, that he was OK and would see his own doctor in the morning."
Judson went home, and his friend drove home to McDonough, said Parker.
"She tried calling him about an hour later to check on him, but couldn't get him to answer the phone," he said. "She tried two or three times. So she drove up to his house in Forest Park, and tried to get him to the door."
When she failed to get a response, she went back to Station 2, which is several blocks from Judson's home. Firefighters called local police to the house to check on him, but they got no answer either.
"Someone broke a window to get in, the ambulance was there by then, and they all went in," said Parker.
Judson was found unresponsive, sitting in his recliner. Medical personnel began CPR and took him to the hospital, where Judson was pronounced dead.
Ward 5 Representative Linda Lord served alongside Judson for more than four years, but knew him even before she took office, because her late husband, Wesley Lord, was a long-time councilman. She is also running for re-election.
"He and I were so hoping we would prevail this time and continue serving together on council," said Lord. "We didn't always agree on everything, but we tried to see each other's points. This is just a shock. I send my condolences to the family. It's a hard time."
Ward 3 Representative Maudie McCord also served four years with Judson. "I really got to know him since being on the council," she said. "He was a very nice person who would do anything for you. He was so easy to work with, and I learned a lot from him."
Judson faced opponents, Lillian Holloway and Latresa S. Akins, in his bid for re-election. Holloway was emotional Friday when she talked about the sudden death of Judson, who was her neighbor. "I extend my most heartfelt condolences to the family of Councilman Donald Judson on the sad news of his passing," said Holloway. "While he and I were opponents in an upcoming political race, we were still neighbors and members of the same community."
Holloway said Judson was not happy when she decided to try to unseat him. "I know he was really angry because I was running against him," she said. "I know his feelings were hurt, but I didn't want him to take this personally. I still considered him a friend and refused to attack him on a personal level."
Holloway said she never wanted politics to come between her and Judson. "Greater than politics, opposition that divides, there is the importance of human life that connects us all," she said. “My family and I offer his family our prayers and our support in their loss."
Akins could not be reached for comment.
Parker said votes cast for Judson will not be counted, so that the race for Ward 4 remains a contest between Holloway and Akins. The mayor and council will have to discuss how they want to handle the end of Judson's term, which ends Dec. 31.
"It could happen either way, it just depends on what the council decides," said Parker. "The top vote-getter could take office right away, or be sworn in, in January with everyone else. It is whatever council wants."
Forest Park is the latest municipality in Clayton County to experience an unexpected change that affects the outcome of Tuesday's election. Riverdale City Councilman Wayne Hall, up for re-election, died suddenly last month. Morrow mayoral candidate Joseph "J.B." Burke was seriously injured in a car accident last month and had been in intensive care at a local hospital, but is still in the race.
Also on Tuesday's ballot is Lovejoy Mayor Joseph Murphy. But Murphy resigned last month under pressure, and threat of indictment by Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson. Lawson convened a special grand jury to investigate charges of voter fraud allegedly involving Murphy and members of his family.
However, Murphy agreed to resign and promised to never seek elected office, in exchange for an end to the investigation. Lovejoy voters will be instructed to not cast votes for Murphy.