Johnny Isakson, Longtime Georgia Senator, Dies At 76

Johnny Isakson, longtime Congressman and Senator from Georgia, has passed away at the age of 76.

“It is with deep sorrow that The Isakson Initiative shares that former U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson passed away overnight on December 19, 2021, at age 76. Sen. Isakson’s family is grateful for the prayers and support. Funeral arrangements will be shared when finalized,” Isakson’s family wrote in a statement published to Isakson’s official Twitter account Sunday.

Isakson’s son John told the Associated Press that the former senator passed away in his sleep before dawn Sunday morning at his home in Atlanta. The younger Isakson said that his father suffered from Parkinson’s disease, but a cause of death was not readily apparent.

“He was a great man and I will miss him,” Isakson said of his father.

Isakson got his start in politics as a volunteer in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1966, and served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966 to 1972, before joining his father’s real estate business, Northside Realty. Northside grew into a real estate empire, and Isakson climbed up the ladder to become the company’s president, and became a millionaire.

He ran in his first political campaign as a candidate for Cobb County Commission in 1974, a losing effort. He won his first race in 1976, when he was elected to the Georgia State House, even as Georgia voted for former Governor Jimmy Carter by a large margin. Isakson became the minority leader in the State House in 1983. He ran for governor in 1990, but lost. In 1992 he was elected to the State Senate.

Isakson made his first run for the Senate in 1996. He lost during the Republican primary, but his challenger, Guy Millner, who later became Governor, nominated him to serve as head of the State Board of Education. He was elected to Congress in 1998 after then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stepped down. He won his first election to the U.S. Senate in 2004.

In the Senate, Isakson played a key role in passing George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, and helped craft a tax credit for first-time home buyers. He served as the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, among others. In 2019, three years into his third term as Senator, Isakson announced that he was retiring for health reasons. He was replaced by finance executive Kelly Loeffler. Loeffler subsequently lost to Democrat Raphael Warnock in a special election in 2020. The seat is up for a full term in 2022.

Tributes immediately poured in for Isakson.

“Georgia has lost a giant, one of its greatest statesmen, and a servant leader dedicated to making his state and country better than he found it,” Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said in a statement. “Johnny Isakson personified what it means to be Georgian.”

“Johnny was one of my best friends in the Senate,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wrote. “But the amazing thing about him was that at any given time, approximately 98 other Senators felt the same way. His infectious warmth and charisma, his generosity, and his integrity made Johnny one of the most admired and beloved people in the Capitol.”

Other tributes can be found below:

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