Local leaders are paying tribute to U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Civil Rights icon whose death was announced July 18.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis. (Special)

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms

“There are no words to describe the tremendous loss that Americans, Atlantans, and I personally feel upon learning of the passing of Congressman John Lewis. America knew him as a Civil Rights icon, Congressional giant and a moral compass, but I knew him as a friend. The people of Atlanta often called upon Congressman Lewis for counsel, guidance, and assistance with getting into good trouble. No matter how busy his schedule, or important his Washington duties were, he answered. We were privileged to be represented by a leader with both a pure heart and an unshakable commitment to human rights. As we persevere in the modern fight for social justice, we should honor his legacy by continuing to hold on to hope. I pray for his family, his constituents, and all who loved and were impacted by the life of Congressman John Lewis.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp

On social media, Kemp praised Lewis.

“A civil rights icon, freedom fighter, and beloved Georgian, [Lewis] lost his battle with cancer today. Our nation will never be the same without him. There are no words to adequately express the sadness that countless Americans are feeling upon learning this news. John Lewis changed our world in profound and immeasurable ways. [Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp], the girls, and I are praying for all of his loved ones, friends and colleagues in this incredibly difficult time.”

Sam Massell, former Atlanta mayor and former president of the Buckhead Coalition

Massell said in a phone interview that he was Atlanta City Council (then the Board of Aldermen) president and vice-mayor in the 1960s when he met Lewis, who was engaged in Civil Rights activism.

“We remained friends and I have to sadly join the many other people [saying]… he really made a contribution to our city and to our country. So he’ll be missed and it will be hard to replace John Lewis.”

Massell said he often dined out in Buckhead with Lewis and recalled him as emotionally reserved but intensely committed to civil rights and other civic issues.

“Although he was a pleasant person as a friend, as a personal friend… he never laughed much or demonstrated much emotion, other than the dedication and commitment to reforms in the civil rights,” said Massell. “He was serious-minded then as a college student and retained that persona through his entire lifetime. He was always serious about his challenge and commitment and conclusions. So it was impressive that he was businesslike and maintained that.”

In the 1986 where Lewis won the seat over fellow Civil Rights leader Julian Bond, the Buckhead Business Association made a rare endorsement in Lewis’s favor, Massell said. Over the years, Massell said, “maintaining the friendship we were building racially was the most important part” of Buckhead leaders and Lewis working together.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst

Ernst praised Lewis in a Facebook post.

“I’ve struggled with my words today as we lost Congressman Lewis last night. A hero of mine since childhood. While it is hard to lose such a beacon of hope during our troubling times, I am comforted by his memory to ‘not get lost in a sea of despair, to be optimistic and hopeful in order to move forward.’ I was honored to speak at the dedication of the very first John Lewis Elementary School in the country in Brookhaven. Mr. Lewis, we’ll continue to march, to speak out and get in good trouble. Gratitude and sympathy to Congressman Lewis’s family for sharing his time and life with all of us. May peace be with you in this difficult time.”

Mary Norwood, chair, Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods

“John Lewis was one of the noblest gentlemen I have ever known. He and his devoted wife Lillian treated me with kindness throughout our decades-long friendship. We will all miss his leadership and his steadfast convictions which guided him through a lifetime of courage and honor.”

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul

Paul, a Republican, recalled the bipartisan respect for Lewis by citing his own time working in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1990s under Secretary Jack Kemp.

“When I left HUD, Secretary Kemp told me when I returned to Georgia and ran for office, he would come help. But if I ran against John Lewis, he would come campaign against me. That was the level of respect and admiration John Lewis had within both parties. He was an honest, principled person who stayed true to the end. If John Lewis told you something, you could depend on it. His legacy as a fearless hero and warrior for justice is secure.”

Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch

“Congressman Lewis always believed in the best of us, which likely explains why he was always so kind, welcoming and gracious when interacting with the public. His speeches were always inspirational and pushed me to do better.  We should honor his memory by working towards making the world a more just place for all and by always practicing kindness.”

–Collin Kelly contributed

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