‘He was a champion for the people’: Friends and colleagues remember Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett

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CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Friends and colleagues of Carter County Mayor Rusty Barnett remember him as a devoted community servant who could always be relied upon.

Barnett passed away Monday at the age of 65. He was hospitalized on September 16th due to a heart attack.

Reflecting on Barnett’s character, Elizabethton City Manager Daniel Estes said the mayor was kind and caring towards everyone.

“He was ‘Rusty’ all the time. He didn’t speak to one person in one way, or say a thing to someone else that was different. He was always the same, everywhere he went. Rusty was Rusty,” Estes said.

Rusty Barnett

Barnett spent over 30 years serving the Elizabethton Fire Department. He worked as a firefighter, engineer, shift captain, and eventually deputy fire chief.

“He loved the fire department,” said Fire Chief Barry Carrier.

Carrier worked with Barnett for about 25 years. He has hundreds of memories of his friend, but one comes to mind right away.

“It was a call we had down in town on Broad Street,” said Carrier. “A child had gotten run over. Rusty was the first one on scene. He helped take care of that child from the time he got there until they got to the emergency room.”

Barnett also served on the Carter County School Board. Then in 2018, he became mayor. Carrier said he wasn’t surprised when Barnett was elected.

“He was full of fun, laughing all the time. Very smart. He was dedicated to the fire department and I know he was dedicated to his family. He was just an all-around great guy,” said Carrier.

“That’s what you want in a public servant in a place like mayor. Somebody who’s always going to be watching out for his community,” said Estes.

State Representative Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) worked with Barnett for a number of years, calling the mayor a ‘very special person.’

“He was a champion for the people. And what I mean by that, is that he was always interested every time that I saw him. He was interested in how to make things better for people,” said Hill.

Chief Carrier says he spoke with Barnett on Sunday night, a day before his passing.

“He was tired and sore, but he was in good spirits. Talking about having to work at home for a little while, then get back on his feet. Coming back to work at the courthouse,” said Carrier. “He intended to come back to work.”

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