The mayor of the city for seven years died this week, and city employees were notified early Wednesday morning.
“We spent most of the day crying,” City Manager Andy Pippin said. “All work is for most people is a job. I didn’t realize until this how much of a family we are.”
Pippin, who came to work as the city manager from the banking industry, worked with the mayor for nearly three years.
“He taught me a lot of about local politics and the political scene here,” he said. “He became a really good friend and a father figure.”
Former Hampton Mayor Tommy Smith said he knew Coley ever since he moved to Hampton in 1960.
Coley transferred his career with the Federal Aviation Administration to Hampton from Atlanta, where he worked as an air traffic controller.
The Hampton facility had a ribbon-cutting in 1960, during which Smith, a Boy Scout, helped organize the recep-tion. Ten years later, Smith began working as an air traffic controller at the center.
“He took several of us that went to work over there under his wing and made sure that we were going to be pre-pared for everything going on with training and he did very good,” Smith said. “With the FAA, he was my mentor.
“I have to attribute him to me being successful as an air traffic controller. He encouraged us to be the best we could.”
Coley was also well-respected in the athletic realm, as he and his late wife Mary Lou were very active in the Hampton Youth Club, which Smith said started out with baseball but later included football.
“Mary Lou was always over at the ball field — always,” Smith said. “R.W. was a coach and Mary Lou took care of the concession stand.”
Smith said Coley’s three sons, two of which he is survived by, practically lived on the fields.
“He left a legacy,” he said. “Everybody liked him.”
As a mayor, Pippin said Coley was very hands-on.
“He treated this part-time position as a full-time job,” he said.
Coley was the one who signed the checks, switched off the lights and locked the doors at the end of the day, Pip-pin said.
Although Hampton has a weak mayor form of government, where the mayor only votes as a tie-breaker, Pippin said Coley still had power.
“On paper, that looks like a powerless position but because of his reputation, he had the most power. It was earned,” he said.
Coley spent his life serving the community, and Pippin said he knows Coley would hate to miss his Halloween tradition of sitting on the steps of city hall with a bucket of candy that he would pass out to children on Main Street.
The mayor had been suffering from a bout of pneumonia, during which he was briefly hospitalized, and perma-nently weakened.
Pippin said in the last week Coley’s condition rapidly deteriorated.
While Smith said the mayor will be missed, his life should be celebrated.
“He lived a good life and he raised some good kids,” he said. “I have nothing but the highest regard for R.W. Co-ley.”
His funeral will be Friday at 11 a.m. at Haisten Funeral Home Chapel, 1745 S. Zack Hinton Parkway in McDonough followed by his burial at Berea Cemetery, 47 McDonough St., in Hampton.
A special election in March will fill his unexpired term through the November election in 2013.