I was clearing off old voicemail late last week when I heard that distinctive voice: "Ron, this is Jimmy Rainwater, would you call me please, sir."

Just a few words can reveal a lot about a man. He was Jimmy, not Mayor Rainwater. He called me "Sir" even though I'm 15 years younger than he was. He said "please" and "thank you." The mayor was the epitome of politeness, and he didn't really need to be that way.

I've known many politicians at local, state and federal levels in my 25 years of newspaper work. The mayor was one of a kind. Just the other month, I was wondering why the mayor had not sought higher office. I never had a chance to ask him, but I think I know why.

It's rare today to find someone who doesn't constantly aspire to more money or power. The mayor's dedication to this city for 16 years was obvious.

His presence at nearly every major and minor event involving the city reflected that commitment. Sure, each was an opportunity for a photograph and to shake hands, but some of today's politicians don't want to get even that close to the public. They speak through public relations flacks and send out press releases.

During his eulogy, the Rev. Phil West said he observed the mayor take time at a recent council meeting to speak to a Boy Scout who was there to earn a badge for studying government. I heard numerous anecdotes like that last week.

Many who expressed condolences on our Web site recalled his willingness to work with everyone, regardless of race, gender or other differences. I saw evidence of that on many public occasions. He was truly a people's mayor.

Jimmy loved the mayor's job, or he certainly would not have been seeking a sixth term. His enthusiasm for his work was inspiring. He will be missed.

Several of the challengers running for City Council spoke of the need to create better paying jobs in Valdosta during last Thursday's political forum at Valdosta State University.

A couple of candidates, including the incumbents, wisely noted the decision of industries to invest here has much to do with the education of the workforce. The 2003 State of the Workforce Report prepared by the South and Southeast Georgia Regional Development Centers indicates our workforce needs much improvement.

The study indicates skill deficiency for existing and potential industrial jobs and high illiteracy levels. These areas need to be addressed by elected leaders and others.

In the region, which includes some adjacent counties, more than 25 percent of the adults have problems with "literacy level one competency." That's described as individuals who cannot determine the total cost of an order, locate eligibility from a table of employee benefits, locate two pieces of information in a sports story, or locate an intersection on a street map.

Business Editor Kay Harris had a story about the report in last Sunday's edition, and we'll be writing plenty more about it in the future.

Ron Wayne is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at 244-3400, ext. 229, or e-mailed at ron.wayne@gaflnews.com.

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