Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 8, 2023

Local officials pay tribute to the late Dalton Roberts, Claude Ramsey

Two plaques commemorating the landmark achievements of the late Dalton Roberts and Claude Ramsey will soon be publicly displayed in Hamilton County. Roberts was the county’s first county executive, while Ramsey served as county mayor.

Current and former Hamilton County and city of Chattanooga officials paid tribute to the achievements of both men during an unveiling ceremony in the Hamilton County Commission Room Nov. 29.

“Dalton Roberts and Claude Ramsey guided Hamilton County for 32 years as the first two county executives, and both played a pivotal role in the transformation of Southeast Tennessee’s economy,” said Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp. “The quality of life in Hamilton County would not be what it is today if it weren’t for these two men of humble beginnings who made bold investments in the future while leading our county.”

Ramsey’s wife, Jan Ramsey, and current county commissioners Greg Beck and Joe Graham proposed the dedication to both former leaders seven years ago.

“Dalton Roberts and Claude Ramsey were two of the most distinguished and honorable county leaders I’ve encountered,” Beck said. “Their commitment to the development of our community set a standard of service that will be remembered for years to come.”

“Many of the Hamilton County successes we cherish today were built on the vision of these two gentlemen,” said Graham. “Their hard work and dedication throughout their decades of service is the reason our county remains in great shape to this day.”

Serving as the first county executive – now known as county mayor – Roberts laid the groundwork that made Hamilton County “an ideal place to live, work, play and retire,” Wamp’s office said in a news release.

Known for his “vivacious and colorful personality,” Roberts doubled as a visionary of county government as well as a passionate musician, author and philosopher.

Born in 1933, Roberts was raised in the rural Highway 58 area of Hamilton County and attended Tyner High School, Kirkman Technical School, Trevecca College and the University of Tennessee, where he earned a master’s degree in special education.

When the Tennessee Constitutional Convention of 1978 enacted a new executive commission form of government, Roberts, the county manager at the time, offered to serve as the first Hamilton County executive and defeated his Republican opponent in the race. As the inaugural head of Hamilton County, Roberts led the transition to a new form of county government.

Roberts had a hand in the development of four industrial parks and was instrumental in developing the initial plans to acquire the former Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant – now the Volkswagen assembly plant site. Roberts was re-elected three times before retiring in 1994.

Current Hamilton County Commission Chairman Jeff Eversole says the whole of county government is better, to this day, due to the laudable example set by both Roberts and Ramsey.

“As commission chairman, I’m honored to recognize the work of these extraordinary men. Mr. Roberts and Mr. Ramsey set the precedent for how county government should operate, and it’s my continued duty to lead this body in a manner that would make them proud.”

Ramsey rose from a third-generation strawberry farmer to deputy governor of Tennessee. He was known for never losing an election in his more than 40 years of public service.

Ramsey began his career in 1972, when he scored an upset win for a state House seat over incumbent Laban DeFriese. After two terms, he won a seat as a delegate to the state’s last constitutional convention in 1977. In 1978, Ramsey was the only Republican elected to the nine-member Hamilton County Council, now known as the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners.

Following Ramsey’s brief term as a commissioner, the voters of Hamilton County elected him as assessor of property in 1980 – a role he’d fill for 14 years before his 16-year run as county mayor. Shortly after Ramsey won his fifth term as county mayor in 2010, former governor Bill Haslam appointed him to serve as deputy to the governor.

Ramsey would retire from politics three years later.

The longtime public servant was known for his “steadfast commitment to expanding opportunities in economic development in Hamilton County,” Wamp’s news release states, and notably played a key role in attracting Volkswagen to Chattanooga.

“Claude was always quick on his feet and up for a challenge,” said Jan Ramsey. “It didn’t matter where he was or what he was doing; if someone needed him, he’d be there in a heartbeat. Claude gave 100% to everything he did. He’d always say how blessed and humbled he was to have the opportunity to represent the great people of Hamilton County. His legacy of hard work and passion for serving will live on.”

In the coming weeks, both plaques will be placed on public display – one on the Tennessee Riverpark and the other on what will be known as “Claude Ramsey Parkway,” which will be adjacent to Enterprise South Industrial Park.