Mayor Nancy Denson
Tell us a bit about how you came to live in and love Athens.
My husband and I moved here in 1965, our second move with his company. We expected to move again in a few years as he moved up with the company. We had an eight year old daughter and a 2 ½ year old son. I was expecting what we thought was our third child, but were surprised with twin girls. We built the home I still live in shortly after moving here. Bob’s company made the mistake of leaving us here a year or so too long. By the time they insisted on the next transfer, we had decided Athens was where we wanted to live and raise our family. It was small enough to have a “real community” feeling, UGA available where Bob could finish his education and we hoped our children would attend and was close enough to Atlanta for the few needs we could not meet in Athens. Like many others, we felt drawn in a way that is very difficult to put in words.
At an age when most people hope to be settling into retirement, you were gearing up for your first mayoral race. What motivated you to continue to serve?
I had served as Tax Commissioner for over 25 years. Bob had died four years earlier and quite frankly, the office and staff worked so well, it could almost be on auto pilot. I needed a challenge and wanted my Deputy Tax Commissioner, who worked in various capacities almost my whole time in office, to have an opportunity to run for the office. I was very tired of hearing and reading constant reports that Athens-Clarke County was business unfriendly, with high poverty rate and underperforming schools. I wanted to change that conversation, much of which I felt was unfounded. Where it was accurate, I wanted to change the facts. My primary goal was job creation, which along with education is the key to eliminating poverty.
During your 2 terms as mayor, what changes have you championed or witnessed that make Athens a city in which the aging population can thrive?
As stated above, the greatest emphasis of administration has been job creation, which I believe is the only sustainable way to reduce poverty. I am very pleased that we have been very successful in this effort. Last year we were sixth in the nation, for communities of any size, in job creation as a percent of our work force, with record low 3.2% unemployment rate. I believe it was 9.7% when I took office. Good job opportunities help the total community, especially seniors, who worry, not just about themselves, but the next generation.
We passed the first single county TSPLOST referendum in the state, which will dramatically expand walkability and the transit system. I was instrumental in acquiring grants to further expand our bus system. I made sure our ACCA is included in our budget every year and one year added enough to fund a new bus.
You’ve been an avid supporter and familiar face at ACCA. What are some of your favorite moments of working with us throughout your term as mayor?
I have loved the times that I have been able to do a Meals on Wheels route, which I constantly recommend to individuals and companies looking for meaningful volunteer work. I always got so much more than the clients from those visits. On one visit, I admired one of the ladies flowers and a short time later got a call that she had left iris and daffodil bulbs for me to pick up at the ACCA office. I remember her each year when they bloom. Many of the clients are of very meager means, but still want to share. The greatest gifts are their stories. I loved judging the Ms. Senior Athens pageant and participating in a line dance session at ACCA.
As you’re approaching the end of your time as an elected official, what are you most looking forward to taking advantage of in your newfound free time?
Mostly reconnecting with friends. Although the Mayor’s job is officially part time, it has been more like one and a half times. I feel like I have neglected personal relationships and family to some extent. I have siblings in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama, who I can take time to visit now as well as children, grandchildren and great grands. I may try my hand at a little teaching.
What do you see as the key to living well and aging well?
I think the most important characteristics for any age are gratitude and acceptance. The worst phrases in our language are “if only” and “I can’t wait until”. We only have now; the past can’t be changed and tomorrow may never come. There is an old hymn called “Count Your Blessings”. I go to sleep each night actually naming and thanking God for my blessings.