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Cornelia mayor dies after cancer fight
Margaret Ballard 'had a big heart'
1018CORNELIAMargaret Ballard

Residents of Cornelia are mourning the loss of a leader this week.

Mayor Margaret Ballard, 64, passed away Sunday.

"She had a brief battle with ovarian cancer. She had surgery about three weeks ago and the doctors were very optimistic," said Donald Anderson, city manager for Cornelia. "She took a turn for the worse over the weekend ... I've been talking to the family and apparently she had an infection no one knew about."

Anderson said he spoke with Ballard last week and she sounded great.

"Obviously it's a shock to us," he said.

Ballard was completing her first term as mayor and was set to be re-elected unopposed in November, Anderson said.

Cornelia Commissioner Ernie Garrett said the city will miss her leadership.

"She had a big heart," he said. "She just always felt like the needs of the city came before her own needs and she was just a public servant all the way around."

Anderson said Ballard had a list of achievements and association memberships to her name.

He said she was active with the Georgia Municipal Association, of which she was a former Region 2 president. She was also on the legislative policy committee for the group.

In addition, Ballard was on the Georgia Department of Transportation roundtables as the Habersham County mayor representative and was active in garden clubs at local, state and national levels, with a specific interest in therapeutic gardening.

"She didn't really toot her own horn," Anderson said. "She just got involved."

Ballard's tenure brought a lot to the city of Cornelia.

"She got us about $1.4 million in grants in the last three years," Anderson said.

The grants included two $500,000 block grants for water infrastructure and a couple from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to build a walking path in one of Cornelia's parks and to create a dog park.

Anderson said it was Ballard's efforts that got Cornelia designated "Water First" by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs last year. She was also instrumental in getting a recycling program started.

Garrett said Ballard worked at Piedmont College and was married.

Anderson said there will be a special election held, probably in March, to fill the mayor position. In the meantime, Ward Three Commissioner Don Bagwell will serve as mayor pro-tem.

"I've been here for five years and I talk to people who've lived here all their lives ... They say this is the best the city has looked," he said. "I've worked with four mayors. She understood the mayor-city manager role better than the other three. She was the best boss I've ever had."

Metro Editor Shannon Casas contributed to this report 

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