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Former Macon mayor Ronnie Thompson dies at 85

John Ronald Thompson was the city's mayor for 8 years and the first Republican to hold the job.
Credit: WMAZ

MACON, Ga. — John Ronald Thompson, one of Macon’s most colorful and controversial mayors, died this week. Services were private.

Thompson, a Republican, became Macon’s mayor during the civil rights struggle, and he promised to maintain law and order during the transition. 

 To fulfill his promise, Thompson issued his controversial “shoot to kill” order. Thompson said he did it to combat armed robberies, which he maintained had become an overwhelming problem in Macon.

The controversy generated by the order brought national news media from around the nation to Macon to get an eyewitness account of the proceedings. Thompson obliged by bringing several Macon police officers into his conference room. The officers wore SWAT attire and carried handguns, rifles and dozens of rounds of ammunition.

In another show of force, Thompson acquired a tank from Army surplus. Word spread quickly, and at a news conference, Thompson said he wanted to set the record straight. “It’s not a tank,” he said. “It’s an armored personnel carrier.”

Asked why it was needed, Thompson said it would safely carry law enforcement personnel and firefighters into riot-torn areas. Asked if there were any of those areas in Macon, Thompson quipped, “No, but we’ll be ready if we have any.”

During that time, he also acquired an amphibious vehicle that he stationed at Lake Tobesofkee. He called it “Willet Sink” and said it could be used for rescue attempts.

Because of the controversy surrounding the two vehicles, the Army took them back.

Thompson began his political career as a Republican when it wasn’t the dominant party in Georgia or the Central Georgia area. While mayor, Thompson ran for the 8th District Congressional seat. He lost to Democratic incumbent W.S. Stuckey of Eastman. His assessment of the loss, the people wanted to keep him in Macon to maintain law and order.

While still mayor, Thompson decided to run for governor in 1974. He qualified to run as a Democrat and Republican, a lawful act at the time.

Thompson told reporters that he’d win the Republican nomination and along the way, he’d pickup enough Democratic support to win the governor’s election. Thompson became the Republican nominee, but he lost in the general election to Democrat George Busbee, who served two terms as Georgia governor.

The nickname "Machine Gun Ronnie" came from the time he shot up an apartment complex where he believed some lawless people were hanging out. They weren’t there, but he left the complex with several bullet holes in it.

Thompson never denied shooting up the place, but he insisted that the weapon he fired was a carbine, not a machine gun. Nevertheless, the moniker Machine Gun Ronnie stuck with him the rest of his life.

On the 20th anniversary of the apartment shooting incident, Thompson accompanied reporters back to the scene and retold his story about the type weapon used in the shooting.

Several people who lived there when the incident happened came out of the complex and treated Thompson like a celebrity, calling him “Machine Gun Ronnie.” They didn’t hold grudges against him.

Thompson ran for mayor one other time, but his campaign didn’t get off the ground. After that, Thompson returned to civilian life where he remained out of the limelight and controversy-free for the remainder of his life.

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