The Chamber announced the award during its monthly Good Morning Cherokee breakfast Thursday at the Northside Hospital-Cherokee Conference Center in Canton.
Mills, who served as Superior Court judge in the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit from 1981 to 2012, was surprised by the honor after viewing a video including interviews of his wife of almost 33 years, Mandy, and members of the community he had worked with through his involvement in Cherokee Chamber’s Leadership Cherokee program and The Boy Scouts of America as assistant Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 241.
“Really, all this, I don’t know if I deserve it, but I know I couldn’t do anything without Mandy,” Mills said during his acceptance speech. “She deserves probably more than this for putting up with me. Thank y’all so much from the bottom of my heart.”
Mills is the longest-serving elected official in Cherokee history, which began with his election as district attorney for the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit in November 1978. He was appointed Judge of Superior Courts Feb. 9, 1981, and was elected to the position eight times until his retirement in December 2012. During his career, he was involved in well over 300 felony trials and more than 50 murder cases.
Mandy said she has had the honor of knowing three generations of Frank Mills, including her son Frank Crouthers Mills, an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and veteran of two deployments to Iraq as an Army captain.
“I’ve had the honor to know three generations of Frank Mills,” his wife said. “Three great Americans who have selflessly served their country, their state, their community and their family all of their lives.”
Cherokee Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Pam Carnes said she had a difficult time coming up with one word to describe Mills that would reflect his innumerable contributions and meritorious service to the community.
“From honest, trusting, fair and kind, to volunteer, spouse and father, the list just went on and on,” Carnes said.
The video showed interviews with Tom Wilson, director of support services with the Atlanta Area Council of Boy Scouts of America; Brenda Whitfield, Mill’s judicial assistant of eight years until his retirement at the end of last year; John Hicks, executive director of G. Cecil Pruett Community Center Family YMCA; and Cherokee Superior Court Judge Ellen McElyea.
McElyea described Mills as the most devoted public servant she has ever known and a personal role model.
“He has spent his entire adult life serving the citizens of Cherokee County,” McElyea said.
McElyea added Mills is the “institutional memory” of the justice system in Cherokee.
“(He) remembers what it was like to hold court in mobile homes and fire stations and to conduct business at a time when this community was not nearly as affluent as it is today,” she said. “He’s done all of that not for prestige, not for power, not for public gain but to do service to the community.”
Hicks, who helps lead Leadership Cherokee courses with Mills, said Mills’ most important work is through his commitment to young boys in the community through volunteering with Boy Scouts of America.
“(He) helps them build character, understand their values, and prepare for success in life has made a tremendous impact on our community,” Hicks said.
McElyea said Mills, a former Army captain, may have been tough as nails in the courtroom, but does have a softer side, which was evidenced by the tears he tried to hold back on stage as he thanked everyone for their support.
After the video, Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens presented Mills with a plaque on behalf of the county and Chamber Board Chairman Randy Gravley presented him a plaque on behalf of the Chamber.
In his years of service with the Boy Scouts, Mills has served as assistant scout master, aquatics instructor and district chairman. He has earned some of the highest scouting achievement awards, including the District Award of Merit in 1992 and the Silver Beaver Award in 1996, which is the highest nominated award of a Boy Scout Council for service to youth.
Additionally, he was presented the Whitney M. Young Award in 2005 for distinguished service to low-income youth. He has also served as a mentor for around 25 to 30 Eagle Scouts affiliated with his troop.
With the Cherokee Chamber, Mills graduated from Leadership Cherokee in 1982 and worked with the program for 14 years by leading annual orientation retreats for new class members looking to take on leadership roles in the business community.
After the ceremony, Mills said the recognition still had not sunk in.
“I was definitely surprised ,” Mills said. “I’m too young for this.”
He remained humble when asked what it meant to be recognized as First Citizen.
“I just do what I do and I’m proud but humbled to have been selected,” he said.