James L. “Jimmy” Lester Jr., a war veteran, Augusta, Ga., civic leader and seven-term state senator, died Monday. He was 88.
Born Jan. 12, 1932 to William McMorris and Elizabeth Miles Lester, he was a lifelong resident of Augusta. After graduating from Richmond Academy, he attended The Citadel, graduating in 1952.
Immediately after graduation, he accepted a commission as a lieutenant in the Army during the Korean War from 1952-54, serving in a combat zone until being honorably discharged as a captain.
Upon his return, he enrolled in the University of Georgia School Of Law, where he graduated in 1957 with a Juris Doctorate degree and met his wife of five decades, Gwendolyn Gleason of Rossville, Ga.
After being accepted to the Georgia Bar Association, he entered practice with his father at the law firm of Lester, Lester & Flynt.
Lester was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1970 and spent the next 14 years representing the 23rd District, which then mostly covered west Augusta.
Lester’s son, Frank, said he hopes people remember his father as a community leader who aimed to make Augusta and Georgia a better place for those who lived here and wanted to live here. He said the family is proud of his father’s work in the community and the Senate.
“We are extremely proud of everything he did there in Augusta, both as a member of the Georgia state Senate for seven terms, as well as a member of the Georgia Department of Transportation,” he said. ”(Augustans) will remember him as a kind person who was always open to people’s issues. I just hope that those who remember him will remember him as a contributor to Augusta, someone who loved the city, loved the state and wanted it to become a better place.”
Lester’s passion about mental health issues led to a number of awards, including the Public Affairs Award for Service to Mental Health (Mental Health Association of Atlanta, 1976); the Distinguished Service Award (Georgia Association for Mental Health, 1977); Outstanding Service to Mental Health (the Mental Health Association for Greater Augusta, 1978); and the Senator of the Year, presented by the Georgia Association of Mental Health in 1984.
Frank said his father was passionate about helping people with mental disabilities.
“He thought those people needed specific systems and help from someone like him, so they can lead productive lives,” Frank said.
Lester was also very active in the Augusta community, serving as president of the Richmond Unit of the American Cancer Society, a member of the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross, and vice president of the Richmond County Easter Seals Society.
He was also a former chairman of the board of trustees of Aldersgate United Methodist Church and was the Augusta District lay leader of the United Methodist Church in 1965-66.
He was also a member and former officer of the Augusta Kiwanis Club.
Known for his even composure and calm good humor, Lester became a steady influence in the General Assembly. He rose to head the Banking and Finance Committee, the Senate’s second largest.
A Democrat, he was narrowly defeated in 1984 by former Richmond County Commissioner Frank Albert, who had switched to the GOP and benefited from a surge of Republican popularity inspired by President Ronald Reagan.
Lester, a longtime attorney from a respected legal family, was a member of Augusta, Georgia and American bar associations and the American Trial Lawyers Association.
He also served multiple terms as regional representative of the state Department of Transportation board, where he received public accolades and is credited with the naming of several highways, including River Watch Parkway.
He is survived by his sons James L. Lester, Jr. (Anne) and Frank Gleason Lester (Laura) and grandchildren Lea Lester and Gleason Lester.
Graveside services will be held at noon Saturday at Westover Memorial Park on Wheeler Road.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the CSRA Humane Society at CSRA-hs.com.
Posted in: Augusta Chronicle
Posted on: 2020-02-18
Link to original obituary: https://www.augustachronicle.com/news/20200218/former-georgia-state-senator-jimmy-lester-dies