A computer-generated calendar is affixed to the glass in the Clinton Police Department’s records area, a red X marked through black numbers counting off the final days Betty Faircloth has until retirement, the last block displaying a bright red “RETIRED” that beckons everyone to look and see.
For the past year Faircloth has posted such a calendar monthly, counting off the days, first 300-plus, then 200 and finally last week down to mere days. While she’s been happy about the chance she’ll now how to spend time with her husband and family and travel with her best girlfriend, as the numbers have rolled away the reality has dawned that a 30-year career will soon be a memory, along with all the officers and staff she’s worked with — and mothered — through those decades.
“Oh, I’ll shed some tears on March 28, at my (retirement) party,” the bold and brassy Faircloth said matter-of-factly, “but the truth is I’m ready to go to the house. It’s time to work at my second job — cooking, cleaning, washing clothes and to travel some with my girlfriend to places like the mountains and the beach, probably Niagra Falls.”
At 62 and about to begin drawing her Social Security, Faircloth said she just realized it was time to stop working at a public job for a while, something she’s done, for the most part, all her adult life. “There comes a time when you need to go home. It’s my time,” the senior administrative specialist said.
But there are aspects of the job — and most especially the people — that she admittedly will miss. “Some of these folks I’ve known a long time, particulary some of the officers. There are some I remember when they were young, and I’d mother them. If their uniform wasn’t right, I’d make it right; if they did something wrong, I’d let them know about it. I watched them grow and move through the ranks, and I was proud of them, most of them,” she said chuckling and then breaking into that infectious and well-known deep laugh.
“I’ll miss the department and everyone I’ve worked with. It’ll hit me that I won’t get to see these folks on a regular basis.”
Faircloth started at the Clinton Police Department in what she refers to as “the good old days,” when things, she said, weren’t as much business as it was family. Though the department still has a family feel to it, the departure some years back of long-time officers like Terry Miller, Terry Pope, David Turner, Robert Sessoms and others left a void, particularly for Faircloth who had worked with each of them and considered them all extensions of her own family.
“That was a big-time turnover and when that many people who were a part of our team leave, it was like my family leaving. I had a hard time with that,” Faircloth admits, her voice drawing quieter as she reflected on her personal memories of each officer.
During her 30 years, she’s worked for seven police chiefs — Puett, Wingate, Kinchloe, Hunter, Evans, Brim and current chief Jay Tilley — and held a number of positions within the department.
She began her career in August 1984, taking the position as animal control and parking enforcement officer. She recalled being told at the time that she was taking on one of the most difficult and thankless jobs in the department considering both were areas that often raised the ire of people. “Alton Hunter, who was my supervisor at the time, said I had the worst job with the Police Department because when you mess with people’s dogs and their money, you won’t be popular.
But she held tight, fought off the sneers and name-calling she would hear as she walked the parking beat in downtown Clinton and did, she said, the job she was hired to do.
She held those positions for five years, then she moved into a job as chief telecommunicator and secretary for the detective division. During that time she did everything from file reports and make case files for the officers to overseeing the dispatchers who, at the time, worked at the Police Department.
“That was before there was a 911 Center,” Faircloth recalled. Even after the center opened, Faircloth continued in communications, working a 12-hour shift with other members of the team. “That’s when the center, still at the Clinton PD, was opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
That ended when then Clinton mayor Emsley Kennedy lost the election and current mayor Lew Starling took over. In downsizing and utilizing the new communications center, Faircloth’s job, along with others, was elminated with the closing of the PD’s center.
She worked for a time in other public, but not governmental jobs, before being called back to the Police Department to replace retiring Marie Britt as an administrative assistant in charge of records, the job she’s held since.
Although admittedly not one to pry into ongoing cases at the PD, Faircloth believes the Dan Arnold murder at Immanuel Baptist Church was likely the biggest case that has been investigated in her time on the job. That murder occurred just before she started.
“It was a big deal, no question, and I recall all the attention it got; I remember some of the officers, Frances Register, I believe, working on that case for quite some time.”
But it was the death of Officer Donald Tucker that remains the hardest thing she’s had to deal with in her time as a member of the police team.
“It’s the worst thing we ever experienced here,” Faircloth said, as she glanced toward window situated where one can see a memorial dedicated to Tucker and other fallen officers. “It was really hard on the department.” Tucker was doing undercover work in Catarett County when he was shot and killed in the early 1990s, something that devastated all those who knew and worked with the young officer.
“In some ways it made us even closer as a department, but it hurt us all really badly.”
Some of her fondest memories come from her work with the Police Club, something she was actively involved with from its inception.
“We did some great things for the community and for our officers,” Faircloth attested. “It is the kind of club that reaches out to help and pulls you in. If an officer needed something, the club was there; if there was a death in a family, we were there. The only requirement to be a part was that you were a member of the Clinton Police Department.”
Through the club, there were gospel sings that raised money for the club, and a yearly Christmas party that brought the family unit of the PD together to celebrate and fellowship, complete with Santa and presents for all the youngsters.
“It was a really big deal and very rewarding at one time,” she attested.
But as times changed so did interest, at least for a while. This past year, Faircloth said, they tried a Christmas event again, with the numbers showing signs of revival. “That’s a good thing. I hope it’ll come back again. It’s good for the department,” she stressed.
Leaning forward in her chair and surveying the office she’s held court in for countless days, Faircloth shakes her head and smiles, recalling the good times and even the not-so-good ones that have culminated in her 30-year career.
“You know there was a time when I regretted not being a police officer. But right now I couldn’t handle it; there’s so little respect for them now. I really just don’t understand this generation coming up,” she said matter-of-factly.
But her own respect for the officers and the uniform they wear remains strong, even as she prepares to pack her belongings and head home.
“It’s like I said, I’ll miss the people, everyone I’ve worked with, but I’m happy too. I’m ready and I’m eager. Actually I can’t wait,” she said, sharing that deep laugh one more time.