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By Mary Harrison, intern
Anyone looking for help at Whigham City Hall over the years, whether a visitor to the area or an established Grady County resident, has surely seen or spoken with Mrs. Lisa Calhoun. The city clerk will be retiring in early August, just shy of her 33rd year as a city employee. Current assistant city clerk Rachel Rogers will become city clerk upon Calhoun’s retirement.
“We’re gonna miss her. I can’t stress that enough: we are,” commented Whigham Mayor George Trulock.
“I really hate to see her go, and if I could figure out some way of making her stay, I would do that, but I can’t. Or, I haven’t been able to so far, anyway,” he chuckled.
Of the 32, almost 33, years Calhoun has worked for the city, nine of those were as an assistant and 24 as city clerk.
Originally hired as a part-time administrative assistant in August 1982, Calhoun says that she was 19 years old then.
“I walked to work every day, I walked home for lunch, and home every afternoon because I lived just three blocks down the street,” said the 1981 Whigham High School salutatorian.
Her parents, the late Mildred and Hollis Chason, were both active in Whigham civic life, her father serving on the city council for around 10 years.
Then-clerk Ms. Elizabeth Grose worked with Calhoun until 1991 when Grose retired and the city promoted Calhoun to her current position.
“[Ms. Grose] taught me a lot,” Calhoun reminisced, who calls her former supervisor an “inspiration.”
“Between what I kind of inherited from my family and then what I learned from her, that just instilled a greater commitment and love for this town we call Whigham,” she said.
The Whigham Community Club dedicated its 30th annual Rattlesnake Roundup to both Grose and Calhoun in 1990.
As city clerk, Calhoun handles elections in Whigham; assists the mayor with the city’s budgeting process; oversees utility billing, business licensing and zoning for the city; sells cemetery lots; and serves as Whigham’s chief clerk of court.
Ms. Rachel Rogers, who has been the city’s assistant clerk and deputy clerk of court for nearly four years, will assume Calhoun’s duties after her last day in the office on August 3. The council is currently looking to hire an assistant city clerk to fill the position left open by Rogers, according to Mayor Trulock.
Calhoun said she remembers working as assistant clerk under mayors Evan “Sonny” Shockley and Claude Hayes.
George Trulock, current mayor of Whigham, was the city’s executive when Calhoun replaced Ms. Grose as clerk in 1991. Since then, the clerk has served under a total of five mayoral administrations: again under Shockley, then with Clara Roberts, Todd Gainous, Jimmie Laing, and under Mayor Trulock since 2014.
Calhoun left the clerk position in July 1998 to stay home with her youngest daughter until July 2004 when she returned full time as clerk. If she had worked continuously, Calhoun would have clerked in Whigham City Hall for 39 years upon her retirement.
“Lisa has always been easy to get along with,” explained Mayor Trulock, who grew up just down the road from Calhoun and was already serving on the city council when she came to work with the city. “We don’t always see eye to eye on things, but we work it out.”
Whigham city councilman Jimmie Laing, who has sat on the council for a total of 12 years in addition to serving as mayor during Calhoun’s tenure, described the clerk as “the best.”
“She was [always] very thorough and knew what she was doing… I wish her well and good luck on her future,” Laing said.
In addition to working with six mayors, the clerk shared about the many other changes she has weathered since starting at City Hall 40 years ago.
“I started at $3.35 an hour,” she laughed. “That was minimum wage back then.”
Technology advancements led to other changes. The office owned only one “gigantic” computer for utility billing in the early 1980s, according to Calhoun, and “huge floppy discs” had to be used to store data.
Calhoun has also navigated Whigham through many alterations to state laws and statutes, including major changes in tax collection and the election cycle, which the clerk believes created more paperwork to complete now than 40 years ago.
Additionally, Calhoun gained her current office space when Whigham renovated its City Hall and expanded into an adjacent building in 2008.
One of the clerk’s unique experiences on the job was assisting Willam “Red” Dawson, former coach of the football team portrayed in the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall,” when he came to City Hall to ask about a house that had been moved.
Calhoun says there were also many times when she spoke on the phone with customers, only to discover that they were relatives.
Calhoun explained that because of her deep roots in the town, clerking in Whigham has “always been more than a job” to her.
When her oldest grandson would visit the clerk at work as a young child, he “would never say he wanted to go to Whigham,” she remembers. “He would say he wanted to go to ‘Nana’s town.’… maybe that shows you [how attached I’ve been to Whigham].”
“It’s my home and I’ve spent so much time here, it’s just a part of me,” Calhoun said. “Whigham is responsible for so much of who I am today.”
Calhoun explained that she is retiring now to focus on spending time with her family, including six grandchildren ranging in age from 1 to 13.
“Whigham has just been a priority for me for so long,” Calhoun said of her reason for retiring now. “[My family has] had to share me with Whigham,”
Calhoun and her husband, Hunter, reside in Decatur County and recently celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. The couple has three adult daughters, Melissa, Heather and Michaela, and attend Whigham’s Trinity Primitive Baptist Church.
Even after retirement, Calhoun said, she will “keep an eye on Whigham” and the goings-on at City Hall.
When asked what she will miss the most about working in the town, Mrs. Calhoun replied, “I am not sure I can name just one thing. . .I will miss the relationships with those customers that have come to hold a special place in my heart. I will miss the random conversations that lead to lifelong memories. I will miss sharing my love for Whigham with those that pass through City Hall. But, most of all, I will miss just being a part of my hometown.”
“After all,” she concluded, “it has been a part of me for a very, very, long time.”