Going strong: Newborn mayor marks milestone birthday

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

NEWBORN -- Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan marked a milestone birthday on Wednesday: He turned 90.

It's likely that Sheridan is the oldest mayor in the state and one of the oldest in the country, though it can't be officially confirmed. A spokeswoman with the Georgia Municipal Association said Sheridan is the oldest Georgia mayor she's heard of, and added that, "To enter politics at age 89 is very unusual."

But Sheridan doesn't think it's so odd. It's just his way of helping his community. He bristles when asked why he decided to get into politics so late in life, but only because he doesn't like to be thought of as a politician.

"I'm not a politician. I was elected to office to serve the people," he said during an interview on Wednesday, his 90th birthday.

Serve them he does, working several hours a day at Town Hall and fielding calls from residents on the weekends.

"He is truly remarkable, the way he thinks things through, the way he goes out and gets information, the way he's worked hand in hand with the county and other mayors," said Councilwoman Martha Ellwanger. "It's been really a joy to serve on the council under him. He amazes us with his energy."

One of the first things Sheridan did after his election was establish a website for the town. He has a list of 19 major accomplishments that he and the council have achieved during their first year, including completion of the renovation of the historic schoolhouse, paving Country Creek Road after years of complaints from residents and establishing a precinct for a sheriff's deputy and a Neighborhood Watch program.

Sheridan's already got the council working on a list of goals for 2011. One of his goals is to keep the town solvent.

"A politician once told me you can't run government like a business," he said. "I disagree with him. It can be a profit and loss situation. The people of the town are your stockholders and there's an elected board of directors to get things done."

Another goal is to bring more business to town.

"We've got to make it happen and we've got to be optimistic. It doesn't happen for you. You've got to make it a go," he said.

Sheridan is a go-getter for sure: "It's no fun sitting around doing nothing. I like a challenge," he said.

Sheridan has faced many challenges in his life, and seems to always rise to the occasion. He was 24 when in 1945 he helped liberate Buchenwald, a concentration camp outside Weimar, Germany, during World War II.

He's broken his back twice and is a colon cancer survivor.

He worked in 32 countries in a span of a little more than 40 years, engineering airports, seaports, dry docks, dams and highways in places like Iran, Kazakhstan, China, Bangladesh, Greece and Ghana. He worked on the Akosombo Dam in Ghana, named the world's deepest coffer dam in the 1976 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. The dam created the world's largest man-made lake, Lake Volta, and was partially funded by America and Great Britain. Sheridan toured the dam with Ted Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II.

His time overseas turned out to be good experience for serving as mayor.

"People are the same all over the world. Everybody's got problems. My job is not to completely solve their problem but to assist them, to help them solve their problem," he said.

As the only American on many job sites, Sheridan said he learned how to prove himself and establish a reputation as a team builder, working toward a common solution. Again, skills that come in handy as mayor.

Sheridan continued to work overseas until age 81. Before he was accepted for a job in Kazakhstan, he had to fly over "just so they could see that I was alive and kicking." Turned out he was both, and within 10 minutes he was asked to start work the next day.

Sheridan says his greatest accomplishment in life is being married for 66 years to his wife Shirley and raising six children who are all succeeding in life.

Second to that, "There's no job I've done any place in the world that I would hesitate to take my family out there and say, 'I built that. I did it with the help of the local people and we did it together.'"

Sheridan and Shirley have moved 19 times in their marriage. Newborn is the place they've stayed longest, some 20 years.

"In a town like this you have people whose families have been here for 200 years. It's very difficult as an outsider to come into a place like that and be accepted. I feel like we've been accepted and we've enjoyed living here," he said.

Asked the secret to his longevity, Sheridan affirms that the "nothing to excess" rule really does work. He used to smoke, but gave that up. He drinks two to three beers a month and, before the cold weather hit, played golf three times a week.

What keeps him young at heart and going strong is a sense of purpose.

"It's the challenge to get something done, to see if you can't do something and help other people," he said.