POINT PLEASANT — If you’re looking for Bill Withers, you’ll no longer find him at the Mason County Court House but at the beach – “Ashton Beach.”
After nearly 25 years serving as Mason County Circuit Court Clerk, on Friday, Withers retired from his post and was celebrated by his staff, colleagues, friends and family, at a special reception held for him in, of course, the jury room.
Prior to his last day in office, Withers sat down with the Point Pleasant Register to discuss just how he got from there to here.
In addition to his time as circuit clerk, Withers served two terms on the Mason County Board of Education. Prior to that he sold pianos, organs, cars, trucks, hearing aids, auto parts and was punching wire on a hay baler when he was 12 – the latter of which is impressive considering he lost an arm after accidentally being shot with a firearm when he was 11. He’s now 81.
“This (working in the courtroom) was totally different than anything I’d ever done,” he said, explaining how he learned the legalese and just what those lawyers are really saying when they say it. “I love everything about the courtroom and about the judicial process. It gives you a good feeling, you know? To know you’re part of the American way of life. Our court system is great.”
He went through the list of judges he has worked with, calling them all “good people.” He explained, it was his job to see they got what they needed and like a brain surgeon, those brain surgeries are only complicated until you get used to them, he said. And, he had a lot to get used to, including layers of processes that require everything be followed to the letter of the law.
“You get accustomed to it,” Withers explained about the job duties.
At the end of every day, Withers said he never forgot that he worked for the people of Mason County, a motto he passed along to his staff. Although he put it in his own, special way.
“I tell them, ‘we’re working for the people of Mason County and I want them to be treated like you’re selling Cadillacs and getting a 10 percent commission,’” he said. “Everyone needs to be treated with respect.”
The daily interaction with the people coming in and out of the court house is what Withers says he will miss. He added, it was a hard decision to make when it came to the question of should he retire or not? After all, he was just elected to another term last fall but he said shortly after the primary, he began to have a lot of trouble with his back and as he put it, as you get older, it requires more effort to deal with some things.
“I’m 81 now and I know it’s only going to get worse,” Withers said with that mix of common sense and a sense of humor.
He said he felt his office will be in capable hands with the appointment of Suzi Caldwell who has been with him on staff for 22 years.
Though he sang the praises of Caldwell and his current employees, he did the same for his colleagues at the court house.
“There’s not one person in this court house that I don’t like,” he said, saying it was a “wonderful” group of people in service to the county. He said working there kept his mind “sharp” but he has plans to stay active in politics, not necessary for the sake of campaigns but to be helpful to people.
“I like talking to people and helping them out if I can. How can you not be nice to people?”
As a well-known politician in Mason County, his advice to others who want to get into politics is to keep it fair and clean: “You never want to get so mad at someone over an election you can’t crawl into bed with them in the next election,” he joked. Of course, he clarified, you don’t crawl in bed with them literally.
His other bit of wisdom (that may or may not relate to politics) includes “everyone deserves to have their day in court.”
When asked what he’d like to do in his retirement, he said, oddly enough, someday he’d like to sit on a jury.
However, until then, he’ll be retired to Ashton where, perhaps, someday he’ll be appointed the unofficial mayor, visiting with his neighbors before heading down to Ashton Beach.
“I’m otherwise right where I want to be,” he said with a positive attitude.
Withers was recently presented with one of the state’s highest distinctions and was named by Gov. Jim Justice, as a Distinguished West Virginian.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.