Athens Oral History Project, AOHP 004 Gwen O'Looney interviewed by Betsy Bean, Part 1Athens Oral History Project, AOHP 004 Gwen O'Looney interviewed by Betsy Bean, Part 1

Athens Oral History Project, AOHP 004 Gwen O'Looney interviewed by Betsy Bean, Part 1

Descriptive Summary

Title: Athens Oral History Project, AOHP 004 Gwen O'Looney interviewed by Betsy Bean, Part 1
Creator: Bean, Betsy
Creator: O'Looney, Gwen
Dates: 2014 November 14
Extent: 1.0 interview
Collection Number: RBRL/361/AOHP
Repository: Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies
Abstract: Gwendolyn Ingram O’Looney grew up on St. Simon’s Island, graduated from the University of Georgia, and has worked in human service positions throughout her career. In this interview, she talks about her public service career in local politics, as a city council member and two-term mayor of Athens-Clarke County. She describes issues affecting Athens during the 1980s, as well as the race relations and women and minority representation at the time. O’Looney discusses the city-county unification process that created Athens-Clarke County, its ramifications, and her involvement in carrying out consolidation in her role as mayor.

Collection Description

Biographical note

Gwendolyn Ingram O’Looney was born in Meridian, Mississippi and grew up in St. Simons Island, Georgia. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia. After graduation, she served as a nurse during the Vietnam War. Later in her career, she served as Director of the Youth Division of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, as state coordinator of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), and as founder of Community Connection. She served in the Human Resources department of former governor Jimmy Carter, and as director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. O’Looney served two terms on the Athens City Council, and later was elected to the office of mayor, otherwise known as Chief Elected Officer (CEO), of Athens. She was the first mayor of the newly-established unified Athens-Clarke County, where she served two terms.

Scope and Content

O’Looney recalls growing up on St. Simons Island, Georgia, graduating from the University of Georgia, and her early work, including positions in educational programming such as the Boys and Girls Club of America, and in human resources in Governor Carter’s administration. She discusses moving to Athens, Georgia, and the start of her political involvement through her election to city council in 1984. She discusses the nature of local politics during the mid-1980s, the strong mayor system, and the socioeconomic aspects and the educational system in Athens. O’Looney talks about the passage of the historic preservation ordinance, its opposition, and the growing liberal contingent at the University of Georgia and the extent of its clout in city politics. She discusses controversial issues, including regulations surrounding the sale of alcohol in downtown Athens and the extension of bar hours. O’Looney also discusses race relations in Athens, racial representation on the city council, and notable African-American politicians, such as John Taylor, Ed Turner, and Miriam Moore, Athens’ first African-American woman on city council. O’Looney discusses the background of the Athens-Clarke County unification process, including previous attempts at unification, the establishment of a charter committee, advertisement of the charter to the public, and the successful referendum of the charter. O’Looney recalls her decision to run for mayor, the band REM’s support for her campaign, and her runoff against E.H. Cullpepper. She reflects on her experience of gender discrimination as mayor, and managing issues in the newly consolidated government, including solid waste management, the establishment of the Classic Center, and the reconciliation of duplicate laws and departments. O’Looney discusses her re-election as mayor, and describes the extent and limitation of her governing power as Chief Elected Officer (CEO) of Athens-Clarke County.

Administrative Information and Restrictions

Custodial History note

The Athens Oral History Project was initiated in 2014 to document modern Athens history, roughly from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Interviews cover topics such as neighborhoods and communities in Athens, civil rights demonstrations, African American history, as well as personal histories of narrators.

Preferred citation

Athens Oral History Project, AOHP 004, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia, 30602-1641.

Copyright Information

Resources may be used under the guidelines described by the U.S. Copyright Office in Section 107, Title 17, United States Code (Fair use). Parties interested in production or commercial use of the resources should contact the Russell Library for a fee schedule.

Finding Aid Publication

Finding aid prepared by Russell staff, 2016.

Related Materials

Access Points

Athens-Clarke County Unification Commission
Olympic Games (26th : 1996 : Atlanta, Ga.)
Oral histories.
Women mayors.

Related Collections in this Repository

Athens Oral History Project

Series Descriptions and Folder Listing

AOHP 004 Gwen O'Looney video, 2014 November 14 (Extent: 132.0 minutes ) Access Online