F. Barry Wilkes, clerk and administrator of the superior, state, juvenile, and magistrate courts of Liberty County announced Friday that he is not seeking reelection and is retiring on December 31 after 33 years of service, ending a career that began on November 13, 1984. His longtime chief deputy clerk, Linda G. Thompson, qualified for election on Friday and will run unopposed in the primary and general elections this year. She will take office on January 1, 2017, becoming the first female clerk in the county’s and the local superior court’s 227-year history.
Wilkes said he previously “had every intention to seek re-election this year for a ninth term of office. I had intended to qualify (for reelection) for one more term but God’s plans for me were different than my own. I suffered two heart attacks on December 26 of last year. After consulting with my physicians, this week I prayed and deliberated about (running again) with my wife, Janelle. We decided that the time has come for me to step down, slow down and enjoy the anointed time I have left in this life.
“I was overjoyed that, after telling Linda I was not seeking reelection, she said she was running—because, in my opinion, she is the most qualified person in the county to succeed me as clerk, to assume the tremendous administrative and clerical duties required of the clerk, and to continue running the office as effectively, economically, and efficiently as I have tried and as the citizens of Liberty County and others who depend on the office’s services have come to expect,” Wilkes said.
“During my first campaign in 1984, I promised that I would work hard to make the Office of the Clerk of Superior of Liberty County (and of the three other courts I serve) the best in the state—and, though I didn’t say it then, I meant the best in the country. I have since dedicated more than half my life and almost every waking hour to honor that commitment. Hopefully, I have. I always tried to treat everyone like I want to be treated, with dignity and respect, regardless of their station in life, and have always tried to be a ‘good and faithful servant’.
“I said back then, when the day came that I felt it was time for another person to shoulder the solemn duties and responsibilities for which the clerk of superior court is accountable, I would step down. I do so now knowing that, when I retire on December 31st, I’m leaving the office in the care of the best person for the job. Linda was there when I got there in 1983 and has worked alongside me for over three decades to build one of the best offices in the state. So, I am hopeful that the citizens of Liberty County and other court and county officials, will lend her the same kind of support that they have provided me all these years as she works hard to continue the progress and quality and level of services for which the office is renowned.” Wilkes said.
Wilkes, who will be 62 this November, is the longest-serving clerk of superior court in the county’s history. He was hired as chief deputy clerk by former clerk of superior court Robert Kitchings in 1983 after Kitchings’ wife, Pearl, who worked in the office with him, died. Kitchings, who served 26 years as clerk, turned over responsibilities for running the office to Wilkes immediately after he was hired as chief deputy. Wilkes, a former educator and then administrator of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit’s public defender program, became one of the first clerks of court in the nation to automate clerical functions and record keeping in a clerk’s office. He has been recognized statewide for being a visionary, for his contributions to improvement of the state’s courts, and for innovative court technologies and systems that he helped engineer.
Thompson has been an employee of the office for 37 years and has served as chief deputy clerk since 1996. Throughout her tenure as chief deputy, she has attended with Wilkes mandatory training for clerks of superior court. “There are only a few clerks of superior court in the state who know as much as Linda does about the intricacies of running a clerk’s office. She has a keen sense for administration, impeccable credentials, and a proven record of accomplishment. Even more, she loves helping people, which is vital for a public servant,” Wilkes said.
During Wilkes’ career as clerk of the courts of Liberty County, he has received a plethora of awards locally, from the state superior-court clerks’ association and council, and other state and national organizations and agencies. Superior courts of the state bestowed upon him in 2013 the first lifetime achievement award ever given by the Superior Court Clerks’ Association of Georgia’s, recognizing his long and distinguished career and contributions as a clerk of superior court and public servant. He was one of the primary architects of the Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Cooperative, which created and has operated since 1998 the nation’s first statewide Uniform Commercial Code filing and information system and has since created statewide systems for providing access to deeds, liens, and plats filed in the state’s 159 counties. He also received twice (in 2013 and again in 2015) the association’s prestigious ÉCLAT Award for extraordinary achievement.
“When the Good Lord chose me to serve as clerk of the courts of Liberty County, Janelle, and I weren’t sure where he was taking me, but we trusted that, wherever he was leading, it was the path I should take. What I didn’t realize then was that, by sending me on this path, he was blessing me immensely but using me for a purpose greater than I ever envisioned. I’ve been blessed abundantly. He has always provided good, hard-working, dedicated, and extremely loyal individuals to work alongside me in the Clerk’s Office and to work with statewide. Each one with whom I have worked was an integral part of my family. Together, we have worked hard, but it has been wonderful because, together, we have had endless opportunities to help a lot of people and to do a lot of good for those we needed our services and helped to improve clerks’ offices and the judicial system statewide. However, one of the greatest blessings I derived from the years I’ve been a public servant are the infinite and abiding friendships I have made along the way. There are too many to enumerate, but always remember and treasure each as long as I’m living. The citizens of Liberty County have been good to me and blessed me with their support for almost three-and-a-half decades. Now, I want to spend time with Janelle, since, for most of our marriage, I spent more time working than with her. We have a lot of catching up to do and I have a lot of other interests that I want to pursue once I finish the ‘honey do’ list she has for me,” Wilkes said.
During his 33 years in office, Wilkes was only opposed once, in 1984 when he first ran for office, garnering almost 78% of the votes cast of the votes cast in the Democratic primary election that year.