The longtime director of the Johnston County Department of Social Services is retiring at year’s end.
Earl Marett was briefly interim before he landed the permanent post in November 1998.
“And I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
Marett, 62, decided to retire because he wanted to be able to come and go as he pleased. He began his career at the county’s mental health department in 1972.
“After 41 years and three or four months, I want to travel some, and I want the flexibility to be able to do that,” he said.
Marett said he would like to see Europe, Australia, New Zealand and different parts of America.
“A lot of places I haven’t seen,” he said.
If asked, Marett said, he might sign on as interim director of social services in another county. But he’s also happy to be available in Johnston County.
“I’m sure it will be in very good hands,” he said, adding the department is like his family.
Tina Corbett, the deputy director, said working with Marett has been wonderful. When Marett became the interim director, “he worked really hard to try to find out what our agency is about, the employees ... how we support individuals in the county,” she said.
“Even in really challenging times, he’s been really positive, not only to me but the entire agency. And he always tries to keep us upbeat, no matter what we're going through,” she said.
After an internal search, the department’s board has offered Marett’s job to Corbett, said DeVan Barbour, a county commissioner who serves on the social services board. If she accepts, county commissioners will have the final say.
Marett started working in Johnston County after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in social work in 1977. His first job was as an alcoholism counselor in the mental health department.
On his first day, Marret said, he asked his first patient what had brought her to the department. She said, “The pope sent me.” After asking her what she meant, the woman insisted “Pope Lyons” sent her.
After the session, Marett told a coworker: “I believe that lady has some mental problems. She said the pope sent her.”
His coworker told him that Pope Lyons was District Court Judge Pope Lyons.
Marett said he is proud the Department of Social Services has always put the client first.
“We talk all the time, ‘We’re here for the clients; they’re not here for us,’” he said.
Marett is most proud of the programs that help youth, especially the Adolescent Parenting Program, which helps teen mothers learn to care for their child and prevent a second pregnancy. Another is the LINKS program, which helps teens as they leave the foster-care system.
The Adolescent Parenting Program “just makes sense when you think about it,” he said. Nationally, about 40 percent of adolescent parents have a second pregnancy in school and don’t graduate, he said. “They’re almost doomed to a life of public assistance.”
But in Johnston County, thanks to the program, “we have very few pregnancies,” Marett said. “Over 95 percent of them graduate from high school.” And about 60 percent go on to college, some coming back to talk to girls in the program as attorneys and social workers.
With the LINKS program, the department can provide a surrogate parent, Marett said.
“I’m proud of that, too,” he said. “We’re here for our kids even when they age out of foster care. They have a lot of support now.”
Marett said his job has required him to be on-call 24/7 and is different every year.
“Well, I tell everybody around here, there’s something that happened every year I’ve been here that’s never happened before,” he said.