A champion of government for the people, City announces death of former mayor George Gardner

Melissa Wissel, Communications Director for the City of St Augustine, informed local Historic City News reporters that former mayor, George M Gardner, died yesterday, Tuesday, April 6, 2021.  Gardner would have turned 84-years-old next month on May 23rd.  Flags at City Hall will be lowered to half-staff to honor the life of this mayor of the people, on a date to be determined.  George Gardner came into office as mayor and served the citizens from 2002 until 2006.  He concluded his six-years in elected office at the City of St Augustine as a commissioner from 2006 until 2008.

Former Mayor Gardner was a graduate of the University of Rochester, NY, a Navy veteran, and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor for 16 years.  He and his wife, Sally, moved to St. Augustine from southern Vermont in 1989.  They owned and operated the Charlotte Street Toy Shop until its sale in 1999.  They lived in North City with their only remaining “at-home” daughter, Lizzie, a rescue Golden Retriever.

Writing on behalf of all the City employees that follow in his footsteps, as well as current mayor, Tracy Upchurch, we accepted the following brief statement for publication, “Our thoughts are with Sally and the Gardner family at this time.  Today we mourn George’s passing, but we must also begin the celebration and remembrance of his impact.  Perhaps this is how we can most help Sally and George’s family in grieving their loss.”

One of George’s proudest achievements in office was establishment of a neighborhood associations program, providing neighborhoods a greater voice in city affairs. 

“George was always a wise and steady hand, who loved our City,” former Mayor Nancy Shaver told Historic City News. “I will always be grateful for his true friendship and sound advice.”

Throughout his public service he held citizen information and involvement as a priority, informing citizens of city affairs through weekly newsletters.  Protecting our neighborhoods and the residential quality of life in the City of St Augustine became his mission.

  • George served on St. Augustine’s Vision ’93 Committee, the City’s Code Enforcement Board, was chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board and president of the Historic Area Council of the Chamber of Commerce.

Gardner did not think much of what he called “the old guard” in city politics.  He was always quick to form new, independent citizen organizations to address some of the most pressing and forward-reaching issues during his term, even those that would become controversial or unpopular.  We know from his interaction with Historic City News that he led business and government advisors as well as citizen groups to reach consensus between all parties to public affairs.

George loved his family and community.  He was ahead of his time in zoning theory.   He made a lasting contribution that effects all of us today.  His advocacy for the “lot aggregation ordinance” prevents developers and other property holders from separating previously combined parcels, particularly in historic restoration areas. Changing the size and density of land structures can change a neighborhood’s character.  Through his leadership, he and his public service colleagues created a way to stabilize the historic character of our neighborhoods.

George provided leadership to address the City’s mobility, parking, and traffic issues in concrete terms.  He led the bond initiative to finance, plan and construct the Historic Downtown Parking Garage; the multi-story modern building, wayfinding signage, shuttling, and all residential parking programs.  Gardner’s original strategy is still the underpinning of our strategy today.  True to his core value of public involvement, there were 32 public outreach meetings to affect the design and function of the parking garage.

But we at HCN, remember George as a “newspaper man” and journalist.  He knew the importance of a free press in maintaining a democracy.  He always shared advice with Historic City News editor, Michael Gold, and respected the fact that we knew the activities of our local government and got residents to participate in the decision-making process.   His contribution has never been more important than it is today — due to the demise of local press across our nation.  While Mayor, he began his own citizen’s newsletter that he continued after leaving public office.  Today you know that newsletter as “The St Augustine Report”.  The final issue of the St Augustine Report was published on March 31, 2021.

  • George earned his Master Mason degree and was a proud Freemason, F. & A.M.  For us, our hearts go out to Sally, the entire Gardner family, and all who knew and loved George, including his Masonic brethren.  We are all better off from his lasting contributions that make St Augustine a better place.