David Ralston, at left, served as speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives since 2010.

David Ralston, who served as speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives for 12 years, has died.

Ralston, 68, a Republican from Blue Ridge, announced earlier this month he was not seeking another term as speaker to deal with a “health challenge which has arisen recently.” State Rep. Jon Burns of Newington was nominated by state House Republicans on Nov. 14 to become the next House speaker.

Ralston was elected as the 73rd speaker in 2010 and known for working across the aisle. He played a critical role last session in stopping Republican-led legislation to allow Buckhead residents to vote on whether or not they wanted to break off from Atlanta and create their own city.

“Speaker Ralston was a wise and fair leader, whose love for Georgia was immense. He was a valued and vocal partner for us as we fought to keep Atlanta whole,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said in a news release.

“We were aligned on many issues that affected the lives of Atlantans. And when we were not, I could always count on the Speaker to be open to differing points of view,” Dickens said.

“He and I shared a commitment to drawing circles of inclusion, rather than lines of exclusion, even when it meant crossing party lines,” Dickens added. “He is leaving some mighty big shoes to fill under the Gold Dome.

“On behalf of the City of Atlanta, I offer my condolences to his loved ones. Rest easy, my friend,” the mayor said.

Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement “our state lost one of its giants, our family lost a dear friend, and all Georgians lost a true leader.” He ordered flags flown at half-staff in Ralston’s honor and that Ralston would lie in state in the State Capitol.

Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, becomes the 74th speaker and will serve the remainder of the term that ends in January.

“The state of Georgia has lost one of its greatest leaders with the passing of Speaker David Ralston,” Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is an unfathomable loss and one that leaves a hole in the heart of each and every House member.”

Ralston’s spokesperson tweeted that Ralston died after an “extended illness” and that his wife and family were with him.

In a statement, Burns said, “Georgia has lost a titan of our political world, and, more importantly, I have lost a dear friend.

“As a leader, Speaker Ralston was selfless and brave — always willing to place the good of Georgians ahead of his own personal gain. As a friend, he was fiercely loyal — always willing to provide wise counsel and support,” Burns said. “Our state will miss him greatly. I will miss him always.”

Ralston was was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 2002 and represented House District 7, which includes Fannin and Gilmer counties and a portion of Dawson County. Before serving in the House, he was a State Senator from 1992 to 1998.

Born in Ellijay, Ralston graduated from Gilmer County High School. He attended Young Harris College and North Georgia College (now the University of North Georgia), where he earned his bachelor’s degree with honors. He received his law degree from the University of Georgia.

This story has been updated.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.