COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Former Columbus City Councilor, wife, mother, grandmother, and avid voice for citizens, Evelyn Turner Pugh, passed away Saturday night, according to a message from Columbus Georgia Alumnae Chapter Of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc..
Here passing came after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She died Saturday evening at St. Francis Hospital. Pugh was 71.
Longtime political ally and close friend Congressman Sanford Bishop mourned the loss of a person he called “a true community leader.”
“She gave of herself until she couldn’t give any more,” Bishop said Sunday morning as people woke up to the news of Turner’s passing.
Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson sat beside Pugh for many years when both served on the council.
“I have been blessed to work with people who I respected and admired over the years — and there were a lot of them,” Henderson said. “But Evelyn was special.”
Pugh was homegrown, savvy and involved.
She was a Carver High School and Columbus State University graduate. She worked at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia for 20 years and with SunTrust Bank for 15 years. In 2007 she was named by Georgia Trend magazine as one of Georgia’s top public servants.
Pugh started in politics at a young age, working on Bob Wright’s successful city council campaign in the 1970s. She also worked for funeral home owner and community leader George Ford.
“Working with George Ford — he was the godfather — and that got her interested in public service,” Bishop said.
In a lengthy interview in 2014 with WRBL News 3’s, then-Ledger-Enquirer reporter, Chuck Williams, Pugh said, “My primary emphasis when I first got on council was trying to be a voice of the people who didn’t have a voice…”
She had fought for her community while being afflicted by Parkinson’s disease.
Despite her illness, Pugh was Mayor Pro Tem under former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson.
“Evelyn was a Columbus treasure,” Tomlinson said via text Sunday morning. “Her impact – both that seen and unseen – will endure for generations. She was a source of wisdom and strength for me and many of those who helped lead the city through the years.”
Pugh represented an East Columbus district, but she worked to revitalize the city’s south side, Tomlinson said.
“Evelyn should be credited with many things, not the least of which was conceiving of, with then-Mayor Bob Poydasheff, the renewal of South Columbus,” Tomlinson said.
Pugh also had a reputation for speaking the truth — as she saw it.
“Now, she didn’t bite her tongue,” Bishop said. “She would tell you what you needed to know.”
Henderson agreed and pointed out that there were times when he and Pugh did not see an issue in the same light. But it never became personal.
“We certainly didn’t agree all the time,” the mayor said. “But whenever we disagreed, I always walked away from those conversations feeling like I had a spirited debate with a good friend.”
One former city employee, former Civic Center director Ross Horner, put it this way in a Facebook post, “She had a silk glove on one hand and a boxing glove on the other.”
“That is an appropriate description,” Henderson said. “Now, she never pulled any punches. She told people exactly what she was thinking and then held them accountable.”
She also served as president of the Georgia Municipal Association, a statewide organization. And that was important to her, said Columbus City Manager Isaiah Hugley.
“It was not only important to her that Columbus prosper,” Hugley said. “But she worked across the state to make sure that Georgia prospered. That was important to her.”
In 2016 after 28 years on council and fighting Parkinson’s, Pugh was re-elected by a nearly 60-40 margin against Marquese “Skinny” Averett, a young political activist who stressed in his campaign it was a time for the changing of the guard.
Hugley and others watched Pugh continue to work despite Parkinson’s.
“She fought until the bitter end,” Hugley said. “Throughout it all, she was determined to go on. And she did, despite the circumstances.”
Pugh transformed her childhood home in East Carver Heights while serving on the city council for more than 30 years and as Mayor Pro Tem for 14 years. She believed her most momentous work was the funding she played a role in for Parks and Recreation.
At the end of her retirement announcement on Oct. 8 of 2019, she said, “This is history, and I’m signing off.”
The citizens of Columbus will miss the leader who worked to transform their city for more than three. Her role in history has ended tonight, but her legacy shall continue to prosper throughout Columbus.
She is survived by her five children, Deon, Tajuana, Maurice, Reggie Jr., and Talender; and 10 grandchildren. Arrangements have not been announced.