Brainerd Mayor James Wallin, a longtime public servant who was recently selected as the city’s Citizen of the Year, died suddenly early Saturday, Crow Wing County authorities said. The cause of death was tentatively reported by his wife as a massive heart attack, according to reports. He was 73.

Wallin, elected to the City Council in 1977, had been mayor since 1998.

His death brought in condolences from Minnesota’s congressional delegation.

In a statement, Rep. Rick Nolan described Wallin as “a true leader who devoted so much time and energy to making life better for the people he was proud to serve — even down to watering the plants in Brainerd City Hall.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that Wallin was “a kind and passionate public servant who always put the needs of Brainerd and its people first.”

Wallin grew up around the lakes area of Nisswa, about 20 miles north of Brainerd.

“He was born and raised in a log cabin without running water or electricity,” said his longtime friend and fellow Council Member Chip Borkenhagen. “He was truly one of the originals here.”

Borkenhagen, who knew Wallin for more than 35 years, said Wallin “had such a huge passion for our city and area. He was constantly giving of himself.”

Borkenhagen nominated Wallin for Citizen of the Year, which was to be formally awarded in November. “At least we had a chance to acknowledge that work,” he said.

Council Member Sue Hilgart put it this way: “He was a fixture in our community. … He leaves big shoes to fill.”

Wallin’s efforts on behalf of Brainerd extended beyond his role as mayor. At one time he was a local print salesman who “morphed,” as Borkenhagen put it, into a print broker.

“He brought in a staggering amount of business for the local printing companies. One time he mentioned that he thought, as a result, that the companies must be bringing in about $1 million a year in business,” Borkenhagen said. “Talk about leaving a legacy.”