Editor's note: The Rotary Club named Ruth Bruner the Woman of the Year Feb. 10. This profile was featured after Bruner recently left the Gainesville City Council after 16 years.
After 16 years on the Gainesville City Council, Ruth Bruner is retiring, but she said she is looking forward to seeing progress in years to come.
“This is really a bittersweet time for me, because I really, in a lot of ways, hate to go off the Council,” Bruner said. “... I just really felt like it was time for somebody else to come in. At 16 years, it’s been a long time.”
Juli Clay, assistant vice president of executive programs at Brenau University, will be filling Bruner’s seat and is set to be sworn in Jan. 7.
Bruner was first elected in 2003 and was mayor from 2010 to 2011. She also served on the Gainesville City Schools Board of Education from 1991 to 2000.
Bruner’s father and brother served in the South Carolina State Senate, so she said she grew up around the issues and became interested in government. That inspired her to run for office, along with encouragement from her friend Emily “Sissy” Lawson, a former mayor and council member who had appointed Bruner to the school board. At the time, school board members were appointed by city officials.
“I’ve always been really interested in politics and just loved the community and decided I wanted to serve. I didn’t really have any issue or agenda,” Bruner said.
The South Carolina native moved to Gainesville in 1974. Her husband Robert is a dentist, and they moved to the area after learning about a need for more dentists in the city.
They have now lived in Gainesville for 45 years, and Bruner said she has found the community to be welcoming.
“We have found the people to be very warm. There’s a lot of volunteerism in Gainesville. People are willing to give their time and their money. They’re just very involved in the community in all kinds of different ways,” she said. “I also like the proximity to the mountains and to Atlanta and to the lake. It’s a great location. I like the size of Gainesville. We’re not too big. We still have a small-town feel, and that we’re not so close to Atlanta that we become sort of subsumed.”
While she likes the small-town environment in Gainesville, she said she has seen the city change over the years.
“When we first moved here, there were hardly any restaurants, fast food or anything like that. There were a couple,” she said. “Thompson Bridge Road was two-lane, and there wasn’t all the infilling of development like there is now.”
Bruner said some highlights of her time on the Council include spending time with fellow council members — “I’ve gotten close with the people on the Council. I’ll miss them,” she said — and meeting officials from other cities through the Georgia Municipal Association. The Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, which opened in 2008, was also exciting for her, she said.
She said she also anticipates seeing growth in midtown and downtown, fueled by the Gainesville Renaissance development on the square and a multi-use project on the midtown end of the Jesse Jewell Parkway pedestrian bridge and the former Hall County Jail lot off Main Street. The city is selling the former jail site and the land near the bridge to an Atlanta developer.
“I think that’s really going to change the face of Gainesville ... which will make the whole downtown and midtown area look different and be more populated, and that will bring in more services for the people that live downtown,” she said.
Starting those developments will hopefully inspire others to build, she said.
“I think it’s going to be a domino effect and people will start filling in and living downtown more, and there will be more to do downtown,” she said.
The lot at Jesse Jewell Parkway and West Academy Street, currently home to Engine 209, also has potential, Bruner said. The city is considering relocating the train so the property can be developed.
“We would love to be able to move the train to midtown and develop that whole block right there. I think that’s a great spot for, hopefully, some housing or maybe a small grocery store,” she said.
The city took over Lake Lanier Olympic Park earlier this year and has plans for renovations at the property that can help it accommodate larger events. Bruner said she anticipates seeing that come to fruition.
“We have some really great plans to make that a regional attraction for meetings, weddings and conferences. It’s just going to be so much better than what’s out there,” Bruner said. “I’m really proud of the way we’ve taken on the Olympic Park as the city, and we have plans to stabilize it and make it better.”
She said she has enjoyed her time on the Council but wants to retire and allow for new leadership.
“I’m really excited, even though I won’t be on the Council, to see all that. I’ll still be here, and I’ll still be enthusiastic and involved and looking at everything that is going to be happening,” she said.
She said she plans to spend time with family, continue teaching bridge lessons and stay in tune with city government. Bruner is retired from a career as a social worker and owner of a nursing agency.