She was hired by a general, she was groomed by a Navy pilot and she went on to sculpt a lasting legacy among the county’s most distinguished clerks of court.
Marcia M. Johnson, who set the bar high not only for all women but for any and all clerks who will come along, was given a warm, deeply felt send-off at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.
Her successor, clerk-elect Michele Maxwell, read the resolution that spoke of a truly distinguished career in the clerk’s office.
After that, it was a time for commissioners and staffers to share their feelings of admiration and affection, understandably gushing at times, for a woman whose earnest and pointed leadership style endeared herself to her staff, and elected officials throughout the county.
Hired in 1974 by Clerk of Court Robert L. Howell, a general with the Florida National Guard, after working part-time in the office her senior year of high school, Johnson continued her work under the administration of Clerk of Court Lee R. P. Rivers, a Navy pilot who years earlier had trained future astronaut Neil Armstrong, and Clerk of Court Kendall Wade,
In her three decades as a deputy clerk, starting with transcribing commission minutes by shorthand, she mastered the courts and finance functions before being elected to the clerk’s post in 2004, in one of the closest elections in county history.
Johnson went on to win three more unopposed terms, as she took the courthouse into the 21st century, with computerization and digitizing off records. She further sharpened her skills by becoming deeply involved on a state level with the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers, the body that speaks for these top jobs in each of the state’s 67 counties.
She received an Outstanding Service Award in 2012 as chair of the Best Practice Committee, and then a year later was honored as Florida’s Clerk of the Year.
“She brought recognition to the office of Franklin County Clerk of Court,” read the resolution, serving as the association’s treasurer, secretary, vice-chairman and eventually its president.
As prestigious as these positions were, Johnson established a reputation among locals down home as being willing to be outspoken when necessary on issues of broader county interest, without ever stepping outside her focus on county finances and courtroom operations, which were well-kept under her auspices.
“Marcia M. Johnson guided her office through multiple hurricane recoveries, the BP Oil Spill, the Eastpoint Fire and the COVID-19 Pandemic,” read the resolution. “(She) is known for her honesty, integrity and for speaking out on issues when necessary (and) has always maintained an open door policy and has helped countless citizens in Franklin County.”
County Judge Gordon Shuler was among the last to speak and his voice cracked at times, acknowledging the tremendous help Johnson had given him.
“You are a fantastic legend in this county, a hard act to follow,” he said.
County Coordinator Michael Moron, who worked directly for Johnson as his administrative assistant before moving on to a higher level post, thanked his former boss.
“I thank you for being a woman of faith and practice,” he said. “You will be missed.”
Property Appraiser Rhonda Skipper, Tax Collector Rick Watson, each of the five county commissioners, all praised Johnson for her work.
Teresa Evans, a judicial secretary in the courthouse for 34 years, called it “an honor and a privilege” to have worked with Johnson. “You’ve set some big shoes to fill for Michele,” she said.
“Being the public servant of Franklin County has been an honor for her, her word has always been true,” she said.
Johnson was grateful for the words of praised bestowed upon her.
“It is an honor to have served with people of integrity. I will forever be grateful to have that support, to having served as clerk for 16 years,” she said. “I am appreciative of those who are here and those who aren’t.”
She said that she and husband Robbie had recently been naming off the many county commissioners with whom she has worked.. “There’s been well over 30 different county commissioners," she said.
Johnson said her first trip to Tallahassee was with then chairwoman Cheryl Sanders. “I have seen over all my years that being a county commissioner is not easy,” she said. “I’m glad we’ve always had a great relationship. You’ve made my job easier. We’ve always been partners and always had a mutual interest to do what’s best.”
Johnson called out County Attorney Michael Shuler, who quietly underscored his older brother’s remarks/
“I know my family is proud of me,” she said. “It is good to be able to leave on my own terms. Not everyone is lucky to have worked in a job they’ve loved.”
Before posing with the county commission for a photo, Johnson announced that her assistant, Lori Hines, also plans to retire, making Tuesday’s meeting the last scheduled one for her. Maxwell has announced plans to hire Jessica Gay, who most recently worked for the school board and superintendent, to replace Hines.
“I prayed and God sent me Lori,” said Johnson. “She’s going to missed by all of us as well. Let’s offer applause for the job she’s done for us too.”
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: A woman of faith and practice