Longtime Statesboro city attorney Sam Leonard Brannen passed away Thursday at Ogeechee Area Hospice, and friends remembered him fondly Friday as they mourned his passing.
Brannen battled health issues including lung cancer, but worked in his private law offices as well as serving the City of Statesboro.
“He battled illness for many years,” said Statesboro Mayor Joe Brannen. “He will be sadly missed. Sam always wanted to be in the office working.”
Fellow attorney Charles Brown reminisced about visiting with Brannen in both his and Brannen’s offices throughout the years. “Our offices were never more than a block away,” he said. “Sam was a very ethical and competent person and practiced law for more than 40 years.”
Brannen, 69, was a Bulloch County native who graduated from Statesboro High School in 1959. Later, he graduated from Emory University (1963) and from the Emory University School of Law in 1966. He returned to his hometown afterward to practice law.
Brannen still held the position as city attorney until his death, having served in that capacity since 1966. He also previously served as Bulloch County’s solicitor general.
He was both Statesboro’s and Portal’s municipal court judge from 1984 to 1991, and served as a member of the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia for several decades.
Gerald Edenfield recalled Brannen’s serving on the Board of Governors, as well as how he helped Edenfield become elected as the president of the State Bar of Georgia.
“I had an enjoyable experience practicing law with Sam Brannen,” he said. “Sometimes we were on the same side and sometimes we were on different sides. Sam was a person of his word.”
He was also a man of humor, he said. “He would tell funny stories, and had a lot of yarns he used to spin. He was a great pleasure to know, and to call friend.”
Attorney Lovett Bennett Jr. recalls one incident where it wasn’t a funny story Brannen told, but a sentence handed down that brought a lot of chuckles.
As a municipal court judge, he once sentenced my client ( a Georgia Southern University student) to watch The Apple Dumpling Gang, he said. The client was caught removing a taillight light bulb from a MG Midget automobile that was parked on the Altman Pontiac lot. My client’s taillight was burned out. He had seen the MG sitting on the Altman Pontiac parking lot earlier that day, and had decided to help himself to the bulb.”
Bennett said Brannen made the young man report back to him on what he learned from the movie – a “sentence” that would not mar the young man’s record.
“That was over twenty years ago, and I am sure the young man has grown up and probably has a family,” he said. “I am sure that he will always remember the kindness extended to him by a very kind old judge.
Former Statesboro municipal judge J. Lane Johnston had high praise for Brannen’s character. “He was loyal, he was honest, he was a dear friend,” he said. “He was a good lawyer. He represented the city for many years and did a good job. Personally, Sam was a good friend, and we’re going to miss him very much.”
Brannen was “what you’d like your son to grow up to be like,” he said.
There was much more to Brannen’s life and activities than practicing law; he was a loving father to sons Sam L. Brannen, Jr. of Decatur; W. Scott Brannen and Kent Brannen of Statesboro, and to daughter Susan Brannen Lindley of Columbus.
Brannen was married to Suzanne Askew Brannen and had four grandchildren.
He served as past president of the Georgia Municipal Association, the Forest Heights Country Club and of the Bulloch County Bar Association. He was a member of the First United Methodist Church, the Rotary Club of Statesboro, and was an avid outdoorsman. Early in his career, he achieved the rank of Captain in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the United States Army Reserve.
Brannen was “always concerned about public good,” Brown said. “He was dedicated, ethical and always wanted to make the right decisions in the light of public interest.”
“He was a pleasure to be around,” Joe Brannen said. “The City of Statesboro is going to miss him. He was an outstanding individual.”
Edenfield said “Our profession is a lot sadder today for the loss of Sam Brannen. He never tried to pull tricks – when he told you something, you could go to the bank with it.” He played by the rules.”
Brannen was a man of his word, Bennett said. I never, ever had to send a confirming memorandum to him after he and I agreed on something. His word was his bond. He was a down-to-earth, practical, problem-solving man.”
A memorial service for Brannen will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Statesboro First United Methodist Church, with Rev. Jimmy Cason officiating. The family will receive friends immediately following the memorial service in the Fellowship Hall of the church.
Hodges-Moore Funeral Home of Statesboro is in charge of arrangements.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.