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An evening of appreciation

Citizens, colleagues and family braved the damp weather to pay tribute to Rockdale County’s retiring and outgoing officials at a Community Appreciation Celebration Thursday evening at Scot Ward’s Green Meadow Chapel and Reception Hall. Ward and Julie Mills co-organized the non-partisan event to spotlight the nine departing public servants and their collective 148 years of service in the county.

Former Coroner Dr. Stephen Boyle, former Sheriff Jeff Wigington, former Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation, former Probate Court Judge Lillis Brown, former Magistrate Court Chief Judge Rudy Horne, former Tax Commissioner Dan Ray and former school board members Darlene Hotchkiss, Jean Yontz and Don McKinney were all given special introductions by a contemporary or family member. 

Former County Commissioners Jason Hill and Norman Wheeler presented each official with black wool and leather varsity-style jackets embroidered with Rockdale County’s logo in gold or the Rockdale County Public Schools’ logo. Following a poem read by his daughter and granddaughter, Ray quipped, “Had I known I would be getting this nice jacket, I may have left a little earlier. It’s been my honor and blessing to serve you all. Thank you for opportunity.” 

School board member Wales Barkdale introduced all his retiring colleagues and after reflecting on the accomplishments during their tenure, such as Rockdale Career Academy, the Magnet School and Open Campus.  He joked of Hotchkiss and Yontz, “Jean was the first person to tell me to run before she beat me... I always tell people I was in the leadership position because of the conspiracy of the women on the board.”

Attorney John Nix reminisced on what Nation’s storied career meant to his own. “I was so attracted to those three men, and I mean that in a professional way...little did I know I was getting ready to sit down in the front seat of an epic classic which was the Sidney Nation show of public service,” he said. “I can’t stress to you how important it is in having this man serve us...he might beat you up a little but he’s always about the law.” Nation said, “I’m retired, but the governor has seen fit to make me a senior judge, so you’re still mine.”

Ward closed the ceremony portion saying, “This county has produced many great leaders and there are still many great leaders in service today. It’s a great night to look at the leadership you’ve been provided and surrounded yourself with. I encourage you don’t give up on this county because some things didn’t go the way you wanted. They’ve never given up on you, and it’s time for you not to give up on them.” 

Guests dined on appetizers provided by Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Outback Steakhouse and Seven Gables. Other sponsors, who helped pay the cost of the thank you gifts, included Copy Central; Maddox, Nix,  Bowman & Zoeckler; Scott and Julie Mills; NUVISION Financial Corporation and Tony L. Wilson; Rockdale Republican Party; Scot Ward Funeral Services; Still Lumber Company; Rockdale County Commissioner and Peachtree Academy owner JaNice Van Ness; About Conyers Magazine Holly Bowie and Diane Davis.

On Friday, Jan. 25, another event seeks to assist retired officials with any remaining campaign debt they might have from the November election.

The event starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Whistle Post Tavern, 935 Railroad Street. There is no cover charge but attendees can contribute how they wish to attending former candidates. The public is invited.

Organizer Bob Bala said he was moved after the November elections. 

“These candidates, the ones who were already officials who lost their seats, they’re the reason people move to Rockdale County. They’re the reason why it’s at the level that it is,” said Bala. “I felt so sad they were walking away defeated and thrown away like a dish rag. I just had a strong feeling that the community had to say thank you and goodbye.”

“Then I found out there were still some debts outstanding. We need to help these people.”