A Johnston County icon will be leaving office.
After almost 35 years on the job, Will Crocker has announced he will retire next year as clerk of Superior Court.
Crocker will finish his current term but not seek reelection. He will end his tenure in December 2014 after 36 of years of helping judges, attorneys and citizens navigate the court system.
Crocker, 76, said he is retiring because he “needed some time to enjoy life and not have all this stress every day.” Nothing specific prompted the move, he said; he is in good health, but it was simply time.
Crocker started in 1959 as clerk of Selma Recorder Court. He became assistant clerk of court for the county in 1967. He stayed in that position until winning election in 1978 after the former clerk retired.
And what will Crocker do in retirement? “Stay active,” he said, by visiting his six grandchildren, spending time with friends, keeping a hand in politics and going to any weddings he’s invited to. He plans to attend many of the same events as before, just no longer as an official. And he plans to be in as many Christmas parades as others will allow.
Crocker attributes his many reelections to a good staff. “The staff is what makes any individual look good,” he said. “Without a great staff, I would have never been here that long.”
When Crocker started, the state didn’t have unified courts. Computers weren’t introduced for record keeping until long into his career. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in the court system,” he said.
Crocker couldn’t name one thing he is most proud of in his tenure, though getting reelected so many times has to be near the top of the list. But so is the goal that guided him through years of service: Keep an open door, help everyone and always be honest. He said he will miss seeing people every day and helping them.
Crocker’s office’s walls are covered in awards and accolades, including a 1992 News & Observer article titled “Will of the people.”
“That’s what he is,” said Jack O’Hale, a local attorney. “I’ve known Will Crocker since 1976, and I can tell you that I have been in courts everywhere, from New Mexico to North Carolina, and Florida to New York, and he is without a doubt the very best clerk of court in the country.”
O’Hale said Crocker is a public servant in every sense of the phrase. “Will is a person of the people,” he said. “It does not matter to him who you are, what your social status is. If you have business with the clerk’s office, he will endeavor to serve everyone equally.”
After Hurricane Fran in 1996, O’Hale said, every government office in town was closed except one: the clerk’s office.
Resident Superior Court Judge Tom Lock said that 1992 newspaper headline sums up Crocker. “I think that headline accurately describes his political philosophy,” he said. “He truly believes that he is a servant of the public that repeatedly elected him, and he demonstrates that belief in the day-to-day operations of his office.”
Lock said Crocker is a living legend in local politics and in the legal community. “His retirement will mark the end of an era,” he said.