For her 26 years in the Johnston County Register of Deeds office, Clarry Gathers’ favorite part has always been working with and serving the public.
“I loved it because you met all kinds of people from all walks of life,” she said. “It didn’t bother me at all, because I know that all of us are special, and I know that God made us all different.”
When Gathers submitted a letter saying she planned to retire at the end of August, Registrar Craig Olive tore it up and only half-jokingly said she couldn’t go. That was the first time Olive ever pulled the boss card, she said, and he told her that he didn’t want to accept her resignation. Once he got over the initial shock, Olive knew he had to let Gathers retire, he said, even though he knows it will be impossible to replace her.
“She’s one of the pillars of our office,” Olive said. “When you’re down and out, she always brightens your day.”
Gathers came to the deeds office in 1989 during the tenure of Registrar Phyllis Wall. Gathers had already marked 20 years serving her fellow Johnstonians – five years with Johnston-Lee Community Action and another 15 years at the day care run by Shiloh Christian Church.
In light of her many years dedicated to the public good, Olive submitted a request for Gov. Pat McCrory to induct Gathers into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine – one of North Carolina’s most prestigious honors. The governor granted the request, and Olive presented the award to Gathers the week before she retired.
“I thought she was well deserving after 46 years of public service to the citizens of North Carolina and Johnston County,” Olive said.
That gave Gathers a week to display the award at her desk, where she placed the framed certificate alongside a congratulatory bouquet of flowers sent by Casey’s Florist of Princeton.
Endings and beginnings
Gathers was supervisor of the vital records department, which means she helped people obtain certificates for both birth and death.
“I saw people at the beginning and the ending,” she said.
Vital records also includes marriage certificates, and Gathers said she always went a bit above the call of duty when issuing those to couples.
“I wasn’t supposed to do it, I don’t guess, but I always asked, ‘Are you really ready for this? Because it’s a new phase of life,’” she said.
When Gathers started in the deeds office, the staff logged records by hand in large books. As she leaves, just about everything is done electronically, and many records are available online. Gathers had times when she doubted she could keep up with the rapid changes in technology, but the power of prayer and professional training got her through, she said.
Gathers grew up in the Bentonville community and has called Johnston County home her entire life. Gathers currently lives with her husband in Four Oaks, and she is a member of New Generation Christian Church in Wilson’s Mills.
Gathers is an ordained minister, and she plans to focus on that work in her retirement. She holds an associate’s degree in theology from Safe Haven Interdenominational Bible Training Institute of Chapel Hill, and she hopes to continue her education with her new-found free time. In particular, she wants to minister to the elderly and to young, single mothers.
All around the deeds office, Gathers’ coworkers are quick to sing her praises and talk about how they’ll miss her ever-present smile.
Donna Stallings has worked alongside Gathers for more than 20 years, which is longer than anyone else still on staff. Stallings got choked up when asked whether she would miss spending time with Gathers every day.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “She’s like a sister to all of us, not just to me.”