Many people now living in North Fulton County did not have the opportunity to know the late County Commissioner Dr. Robert E. Fulton. But they see the things he set in place for the county everywhere they go.
It is hard to believe he has been gone 13 years. But in that time, it has become more evident just how much he accomplished without ever trying to make political hay out of any of it.
Friends, family and associates gathered last week to dedicate the Dr. Robert E. “Bob” Fulton Pavilion at the Johns Creek Environmental Campus on Holcomb Bridge Road.
It is an area wastewater treatment plant, but it carries the name of an environmental campus because Bob was, among many other things, an educator. He saw to it that this facility on the banks of the Chattahoochee River would have an educational component.
Bob Fulton served on the Fulton County Commission in the late 1990s until 2004 when he died suddenly.
The County Commission was a combative arena in those days – sensitive to race, party and geography. Until the 1990s North Fulton had no district representative of its own above the Chattahoochee (today there are two).
But Bob was different. He just wanted to do what was best for everybody. He looked out for North Fulton most of all because at the time he was the only representative for everyone north of the ‘Hooch.
One person who understands this is current District 2 Commissioner Liz Hausmann.
“It really hit me, that this is Bob Fulton’s seat. That is a lot to live up to. He touched so many lives,” Hausmann said. “So many leaders today got their start because he mentored them.
“I know I would not have taken up elective office except for his encouragement.”
Hausman has gone on to serve first on the Johns Creek City Council and the Fulton County Board of Education before becoming commissioner.
She thought it appropriate to honor Bob with the Bob Fulton Pavilion that overlooks the Chattahoochee River at the Johns Creek Environmental Campus (JCEC).
Veolia is the company that manages both the JCES and the Tom Lowe water facility on Old Alabama Road. Veolia volunteered to pay for the pavilion.
After all, it was Bob who had the idea to make the 43-acre site more than just a place to treat sewage. Today it is one of the most efficient and environmentally safe wastewater treatment facilities in the world.
“Bob Fulton envisioned a facility that both served the water treatment needs of North Fulton and teaches residents about what is being done to ensure the safety of water, one of our most vital resources,” Hausmann said.
Fulton County and the City of Roswell collaborated to extend and connect nature trails within the JCEC’s footprint in Garrard Landing Park.
“Bob Fulton was a champion for parks and trails,” said Roswell Mayor Jere Wood. “He would be proud of this project”
Bob, a rocket scientist for NASA and a professor at Georgia Tech, saw the natural place to teach students and adults about clean water is where the county cleans its water.
Debra Ewing worked for Bob when he was a commissioner, and she later headed the Environmental Education Center at the water reclamation site which Bob insisted be a part of the project.
Today it is the Dr. Robert E. “Bob” Fulton Environmental Education Center at JCEC. It contains a lecture hall and a teaching lab where hundreds of Fulton County students have come to learn about water treatment and a variety of water quality management issues.
“He was a true public servant. He was so patient with anyone. And he listened,” Ewing said.
He saw the water treatment plant as a large classroom. That is how he sold Roswell on the idea. Residents and the City Council weren’t keen on the idea of a water treatment plant on Holcomb Bridge Road.
But Bob had a way of making people see reason. He never got angry at anyone and he could find a solution or a compromise in any situation.
So Bob’s Pavilion is just a way to tell him he was right.
“He didn’t force Roswell to accept a water treatment plant on Holcomb Bridge Road, he just convinced everyone it was a great idea. And he made everybody happy to do it,” Roswell City Councilwoman Nancy Diamond said.
Today, experts from the world over journey to see the JCEC and study its effectiveness.
Diamond knew Bob when he got interested in Roswell’s STAR House, an after school program for disadvantaged students.
There was no upside politically, Diamond said. But he saw value in preparing young minds as students before they got too far behind to catch up.
That was true of Bob. He never accepted any salary from Fulton County.
He was a rocket scientist and that meant he was smart. But he worked for NASA, and that meant he knew his way around a budget.
Bob could find money for things he thought were important.
When Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was our man in Washington, he was asked if the U.S. Highway Department might look kindly on funding requests for Ga. 400.
Bob was in the room when the proposal was being discussed. Everyone wondered how much should they ask for. The sum of $10 million was advanced.
Bob said, “You’re talking to Washington. They won’t respect you unless you ask for $50 million.”
Washington gave us $45 million.
Bob took his slice off the top. He saw to it Johns Creek (well before cityhood) got $5 million for its nascent greenway program.
Bob said always ask for the moon. He knew. He had been there before.