By Richard Rourk
Longtime Unicoi County Trustee Paul Berry recently retired after many years of service to Unicoi County.
Berry, who retired in June, leaves a legacy of commitment that you don’t see every day. “He will be missed,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said. “It has been an honor to work with Mr. Berry and wish him the best in his retirement.”
Berry recently sat down with The Erwin Record and discussed his plans.
“It’s been good,” Berry said. “While serving as Trustee, there were things around the house that I needed to do but didn’t find the time. Your time is limited when you are at work all day. Now I have the time and have begun working on some of those projects.”
Berry has also been traveling to see his grandchildren in action.
“My wife and I have enjoyed traveling around to see our grandchildren play travel baseball,” Berry said. “We have been all over the region and even to Charleston to see them play.”
Home improvements and travel ball are not the only things keeping Berry, never one to sit idle, busy. “I’ve had time to tinker around with the farm,” Berry said.
Berry’s career has come full circle starting out working on a farm at a young age. “I started working at 14 years old,” Berry said. “Our neighbor had a big farm and a sawmill and he would always have work for my brother and me in the summertime. We were working on the farm and he came to us one day and said ‘I’ve had a few guys that couldn’t make it, I need you two to work at the sawmill.’ We started working at the sawmill and loved it.”
Never one to shy away from hard work, Berry embraced the work he was doing at the sawmill. “Even after high school I would work at that sawmill,” Berry said.
After working on the farm and in the sawmill, Berry went to work at Hoover Ball and spent 28 years there. “I loved it,” Berry said. “My wife would ask me on Sundays if it bothered me going in on Monday, and the answer was always no. I love it and felt fortunate to have such a good job working with such good people.”
It was while working at Hoover Ball that Berry, who said he never was one for politics, decided to run for office.
“My father-in-law loved politics,” Berry said. “I heard that Mr. Tom Hensley was retiring and I submitted my paperwork.”
Berry said he never expected to win but he wanted to gain campaign experience when he first ran.
“I started in Rice Creek and walked door to door talking to the citizens,” Berry said. “I covered 90 to 95% of the county. My supervisor at Hoover let me work from 3 a.m. until noon. I went home cleaned up real quick and started door to door, I wasn’t going to take shortcuts.”
His victory came as a surprise when that first election night came around.
“It took a lot of praying and we heard the results on the radio while gathering at the courthouse,” Berry said. “This was 1984 and there were three of us from Hoover that ran for Trustee. We all agreed whoever won, we would support and I was fortunate to win.”
Berry said that he left the office in good hands when he announced he was retiring.
“Everyone in the Trustee’s office does a great job,” Berry said. “I was glad to see the county commission choose Katie Bennett to serve out the remainder of my term. She has 15 years experience serving in the Trustee’s office and is a hard worker and dedicated to the citizens of Unicoi County.”
Bennett, like so many others in the county, hated to see Berry leave.
“When he told us, I was speechless,” Bennett said. “Paul had been a fixture in the courthouse for so long I couldn’t imagine it without him. I was so humbled by his recommendation and encouragement. When he brought me into the office, I was young and over the years he gave me more and more responsibilities. For him to acknowledge that I had learned and grown means so much to me. And those who know Paul well, know that he wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it, which makes it mean even more.”
The public might not know that Berry was a big jokester.
“We never knew when something funny was going to pop up,” Bennett said. “It never got in the way of the high work standards he held himself and his employees to, but he made sure we had fun while working hard.”
As Bennett steps into her new role as Trustee for Unicoi County, she takes the lessons she has learned from Berry with her.
“Paul was not quick to make a decision,” Bennett said. “He would think things over from all angles before deciding what to do. That has already been an invaluable lesson for me.”
Bennett said she will always remember Berry’s relentless service to the people of Unicoi County.
“Paul did countless deeds behind the scenes for others,” Bennett said. “Many that only God knows. He always did what he thought was right and stood by his decisions.”
Berry went on to win each election since 1984 and to serve as Trustee until deciding to retire last month but is ready to move on to the next chapter of his life.
“I’m going to miss serving the people of Unicoi County,” he said.
“And I’m going to miss working with everyone at the courthouse,” Berry added. “I’m so thankful to have my wife and two children, who have stood by me through the years as well.”