Carter County Courthouse

Patsy Lewis (left) and Sequa Shields recently retired from the Carter County Courthouse. Lewis served 45 years and Shields served 24 years. Rita Ford, not pictured, retired last month. She served 36 years.

ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Courthouse has lost 105 years of experience recently with the retirement of three long-serving women who served in three different parts of the local government.

Patsy Lewis worked for 45 years in the county clerk’s office. Sequa Shields worked 24 years in the property assessor’s office. Rita Ford retired in June after working 36 years, in which 18 of those years with the Board of Education and the other 18 years with the county financial management office, once the county went under the County Financial Management System of 1981. Because Ford retired a month ago, she was not available to be interviewed with Lewis and Shields.

Lewis was hired by County Clerk Roy McKinney. After McKinney retired, she continued working in the office when the office was headed by Goldie Pierce, Lou Eller and now Mary Gouge.

Shields was hired by Property Assessor John Holsclaw Sr. She continued working in the assessors office under Gerald Holley and now Ronnie Taylor.

“When I started working here, there were no copiers, no computers, we all used manual typewriters and there was no security,” Lewis said. At that time, there were only two phone lines into each office. Lewis said McKinney had a strict rule about the phones. “They better not ring more than three times before someone answered it,” Lewis said.

Even so, the county employees successfully accomplished all the tasks back then that are accomplished now with sophisticated office equipment. But it was sometimes very difficult.

The state’s computer system now makes it possible to quickly find a vehicle registration even if a citizen has lost a title and registration. Lewis said that when such paperwork was lost in the early days of her work with the county, the only way to find the registration and title numbers was to search in the files. It takes a lot of concentration to search manually by vehicle identification numbers because each number contains about 17 numbers and letters.

Shields also knows what it was like to do detailed work in the time before computers. The office keeps up with 34,000 parcels in the county spread along 700 miles of roads, and 7,000 parcels in Elizabethton.

The office has to do field reviews of one quarter of all properties every year and the county undergoes a reappraisal every five years. Still, Shields said she enjoyed the field work.

Both Lewis and Shields remember the days when their offices were first computerized. While they had to learn to use computers, the programmers had to understand their many tasks, operations and responsibilities.

“They paid us to reprogram the computers,” Lewis said.

Among the computer programs, Shields said there is a direct line from the Carter County assessor to the state comptroller’s office.

She said that line has had a workout in the past few years, as real estate sales have been the highest they have ever been, including tripling and quadrupling values.

“I loved my job. I planned to work until I was 70,” Shields said. The only reason she chose to retire now was because she feels the need to take care of her mother.

She also plans to remain active with her church, First Christian Church of Elizabethton.

“I am going to miss my customers,” Shields said. Some of the customers she has grown to know very well are people she has not met in person. “I work with a lot of people on the phone,” she said. “There are some in Florida and other places that I talk to a lot.

Lewis echoed Shields. “I will miss my customers,” she said.

She has enjoyed helping citizens go through the county records and helping them with genealogical details.

She recalls going through some of the county’s earliest history. “Elizabeth Carter’s will nearly broke my heart,” Lewis said.

Lewis said she plans to devote time to her church, Beck Mountain Baptist Church, where she serves as pianist. She also has grandchildren to keep her busy as well as charitable work Relay for Life.

“I have made a lot of life-long friends through work; I have survived breast cancer,” Lewis said.

Ford was reached by phone and said “there have been good times and bad times.

“The only success that I feel that I earned in 36 years is the gratifying feeling that I had the day I left and walked through the door, knowing that I never had to walk through it again,” she said.

“I wish Sequa and Patsy a wonderful future and hope they enjoy retirement as much as I have since June 1.”

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John Thompson covers Carter and Johnson counties for the Johnson City Press since 1998. He grew up in Washington County and graduated from University High and East Tennessee State University

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