John Acker, chairman of the Columbus Redevelopment Authority and longtime State Farm agent, died Tuesday evening from an apparent medical condition.
Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant said Acker, 48, had a medical issue that caused him to lose control of his vehicle sometime between 7 and 8 p.m. on Minnie Vaughn Road in south Lowndes County.
“His medical issue caused him to run off the road, but there was no damage to the vehicle,” said Merchant who pronounced Acker dead at the scene.
Acker was perhaps best known in the community as the driving force behind the Columbus Redevelopment Authority. He was selected as the chairman of the five-member CRA board when it formed in 2014. The board was charged with developing and implementing the city’s redevelopment plans, most prominently the Burns Bottom project, which calls for a conversion of a five-block section of the city just east of the Columbus Soccer Complex. The project was launched in 2015 and is still in progress, with the aim of converting the blighted area to higher-value residential development.
He was also instrumental in brokering the Columbus Municipal School District’s sale of Lee Middle School to local developer Scott Berry in 2018. The school had been closed since 2011, and is now being redeveloped as a mixed-use project with high-end loft apartments and commercial space.
“Last night Columbus lost one of its best with the passing of John Acker,” Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said. “John was a leader among leaders. He was respected as smart and determined to those that knew him. John has been the only chairman that Board has ever had since its formation. I don’t know of anyone with the skills and determination to accomplish what he has done in that leadership for our city. Columbus is stronger and better for John’s willingness to serve others and I am saddened with his passing.”
Developer Mark Castleberry, one of the original CRA board members, said Acker was the person who did most of the work for the group.
“We (the board) would meet and come up with ideas, but John was very much responsible for implementing everything and doing the hard work, everything from paying the bills and managing the finances to the legal work and managing the land purchases,” Castleberry said. “He was a very good person to work with. It’s a shock. He died way too soon.”
Acker was a father of three, all of whom attended Heritage Academy. He was an active supporter of the school, particularly its sports programs, where he served as the radio voice of the Patriots basketball program.
The news came as a heavy blow to the Heritage Academy family, said Greg Carlyle, the school’s headmaster.
“We’re just trying to get our heads around it now,” Carlyle said. “His two daughters, Mary and Anna, graduated from Heritage and his son, Eli, is a senior this year. We’re getting prayer groups together and we’ll be supporting the family any way we can.”
Eli Acker is an Ole Miss football commitment for 2021, where he will join his sisters who are students at Ole Miss.
Acker was with State Farm for 25 years, the last 20 as an agent in Columbus.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]