VALDOSTA -- A longtime downtown Valdosta businessman died Wednesday after a brief illness.

Emil Girardin, chairman of the board of Girardin Jewelers, was 84.

Born June 17, 1917, he served in the U.S. Navy in World War II before becoming the owner and operator of Girardin Jewelers, which was owned by his family.

Friends described the businessman as a good person.

"His family has been in this business for years, generations," said Florence Colyer, co-owner of Colyer's Jewelry Inc. "They were, and are, a good family. I sure hate to hear this."

James Colyer, owner of Colyer's Jewelry Inc., said, "He was a fine gentleman. Even though we were competitors, we were still friends. When I started 50 years ago, working for a competitor, Emil and his father were always very nice to me. Always thought the world of him. The whole family. I just always did like him. I thoroughly enjoyed knowing him."

Girardin served the city as well, as past president of the Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, Valdosta Kiwanis Club and the Valdosta Jaycees. He was a past national president of the Travelers Protective Association and also helped form and participated in the Downtown Business Association.

"He was a Christian man," Woody Dennis, a friend, said. "He meant a great deal to this town, especially the downtown area."

Girardin was also very active in his church, First Christian Church on North Patterson Street. He was a past treasurer, past trustee, deacon and elder emeritus. According to Virginia Culpepper, church member and friend, he was always a faithful member of the church.

"He always went to church and was very active," she said. "He was a good influence over his children because they are all active members. Everybody liked him -- he was very popular. We are going to miss him greatly, both in the city and the church."

To contact reporter Michelle Taylor, please call 244-3400, ext. 247.

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