Honoring Billy Bright

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 6, 2010

At the end of the work day, Billy Bright lowers the American flag June 30 outside the county courthouse in Batesville. The day also marked his last day as a county employee after logging 41 years and three months as a deputy tax collector. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

Bright bids goodbye to long career at county courthouse

By Billy Davis

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Billy Bright, 64, said he had his day planned out, on the eve of the July 4th weekend, when a reporter asked his plans.

His first stop, he said, was to stop by the county courthouse in Batesville, where he will visit with the deputies in the tax collector’s office.

He planned to help Rhonda Fox, who asked for his help with her new bookkeeping job.

“That’s my first stop,” he said. “Then I’ll do a little shopping.”

After his shopping, he planned to be home by one o’clock then put some clothes in the washer. The grass needs mowing, but first he needs to tinker with the riding mower.

The well-planned day, on July 1, comes after Bright has spent four decades doing, for the most part, the same thing every day.

He retired last week from Panola County government, ending a 41-year-and-three-month career that began and ended in a little office, itself mostly unchanged, in the Batesville courthouse. He oversaw bookkeeping for the county office, a job now handed to Fox, 40.

Sitting in a blue easy chair in his Good Hope Road home, Bright seemed unfazed by the turn that his life had suddenly taken.

Some quickly scribbled math showed Bright had worked 10,720 days for county government, never working another job since late Sheriff Forrest Tuttle hired him, in 1969, as a deputy tax collector.

“The state gave me 43 years, not 41,” Bright went on to explain. Why? He rarely took a vacation, or even a sick day, and those days were credited to his retirement by the State of Mississippi

“There are no surprises with Billy. He did everything by the book,” said Fox, who moved into her new role after 14 years with the county office.

In 1969, Fox wasn’t born yet when Bright began working for Tuttle, who then served as both sheriff and county tax collector.

The Beatles released Abbey Road that year. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Elvis recorded “Suspicious Minds” and “Kentucky Rain.”  

Bright had graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in business administration. He was hired by Tuttle when his father, Guy Bright, told the sheriff his newly graduated son was looking for a job.

The Mississippi legislature, in 1972, yanked the title of tax collector from Mississippi sheriffs and handed it to the county’s tax assessor. Thus Bright began working for the late J.V. “Buck” Still, who then had been serving as tax assessor since 1952. Still died in office in 1983, setting up a special election that was won by Imogene Wallace, a deputy clerk.

Bright has worked for his present boss, David Garner, since 1992 after Wallace retired.

Tens of thousands have walked past Bright to pay taxes or purchase an automobile tag. He keeps the plain wooden door open –“except when we count money,” he said. He has seen few famous faces, at least not famous enough to trigger a story. Candidates stumping for votes don’t count.

 “Charlie Pride came by a couple of years ago,” he said. “Does that count?”

Forty-five days. That’s how long, per state rules, that Bright must wait before he can go back to work as a retiree. He can work, at most, 20 hours per week.

You don’t have to be a bookkeeper to know that leaves 20 hours, Monday through Friday, for Bright to wonder if Fox is doing it right.