POINT PLEASANT — One of Mason County’s most well-known figures is now one of the state’s most distinguished.
Bill Withers, who has been the circuit clerk in Mason County for nearly 25 years, was honored with one of the state’s highest distinctions on Thursday in the same courtroom where he has worked for so long.
Withers recently announced he will be stepping down from his position as circuit clerk on June 30, due to back problems. The announcement came as unexpected to many, as Judge Anita Ashley noted at Thursday’s presentation. She said she asked her husband Bob Ashley, legislative director for Gov. Jim Justice, if Withers could be honored in some special way.
“This is the highest honor a resident can receive from the government of West Virginia,” Bob said when presenting Withers with the framed Distinguished West Virginian proclamation in the courtroom.
The award can only be approved by the governor and Withers was also presented with a lapel pin, denoting his “distinguished” status that only those who are presented with the distinction can wear.
“This is really an honor and I appreciate it,” Withers said to those gathered in the courtroom, visibly touched by the recognition. “I really appreciate it and I thank you all for being a part of this with me.”
One of the well wishers was Mason County Commission President Tracy Doolittle who said she’d known Withers since she was a girl and that he would be missed. She joked about him being a “red hot democrat” while she was a “red hot republican” and their conversations about that very fact.
“Neither of us ever wins,” Withers said about their debates.
Judge Craig Tatterson said it was going to be “a lot different when Bill isn’t here.”
“One thing you notice about Bill is, there’s not a person that comes to his office asking for help that doesn’t leave without at least thinking they got help,” he joked.
Tatterson then got serious, saying: “Everyone that leaves Bill’s office has really and truly gotten help. Sometimes in his position…in anyone’s position…you can’t help out everyone but he’ll try and point them in the right direction. We’ll be losing one heck of an asset…not only as circuit clerk but as a friend to people.”
Withers added: “I’ve worked a lot of places and I’ve done a lot of things but I’ve never been associated with such a good group of people as there are here in the Mason County Courthouse.”
A Lions Club of Point Pleasant member also thanked Withers for his service to their club at the presentation. In addition, when it came to elected officials, County Clerk Diana Cromley and Prosecuting Attorney R.F. Stein, Jr. were also in the courtroom for the presentation and wished Withers well. Withers’ office staff also had a front row seat for their boss’ honor as did his family members. He was also joined by former staff members and friends.
Never a man without a story to tell, Withers told those gathered, when he informed County Administrator John Gerlach he was retiring, Gerlach reportedly said that was one thing he never thought he’d hear and that the courtroom would be different. Especially since when you walk into it, there are two faces you expect to see – one is George Washington, the other is Bill Withers.
Withers announced his support of Suzi Caldwell, who has worked in his office for 22 years, as his successor. Caldwell is expected to be appointed to his position by judges of the Fifth Judicial Circuit for a term beginning July 1. That position will be up for election in the fall of 2018. Withers announced he plans to campaign for Caldwell who has said she plans on running for the office.
A retirement luncheon is being planned for Withers on June 30, his last official day in office, at the court house.
More on Withers’ thoughts on retirement in an upcoming edition.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at email@example.com.