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Loretta Clawson enjoys the waning days of her tenure as mayor at her Boone Town Hall office Dec. 12.

photo BY ANNA OAKES | WATAUAGA DEMOCRAT



Originally published: 2013-12-14 15:51:36
Last modified: 2013-12-14 16:16:38

'Can't give up Boone'

by Anna Oakes

"I'm very sad," said Loretta Clawson, shifting a cardboard box of objects and keepsakes from her desk at Boone Town Hall one day last week. "But I'm happy in a way, too. I need a break."

Clawson will get that break following Tuesday's Boone Town Council meeting, when she will officially hand the mayor's gavel off to Andy Ball, who was elected to a four-year term as Boone's top public official this November. Clawson retires this month after eight years (two two-year terms and one four-year term) as mayor, from 2005 to 2013, and eight years on the Boone Town Council, from 1997 to 2005.

"I really admire her dedication to public service," Ball said. "She has made time for everything; she's always there at every event. She shows up for the community. I look to take the cue from her."

Clawson was raised in Old Beech Mountain, where her family grew tobacco. She first became enamored with Boone as a child, when she would travel to the town with her family a couple of times a year to buy school clothes -- at that time, Boone comprised today's downtown area, and the U.S. 321 corridor was pastureland. Clawson attended Cranberry High School and then went to work at Boone's Shadowline factory sewing pajamas. She married L.D. Clawson from Carter County, Tenn., and the couple briefly lived in Lexington for two years before moving to Boone in 1966. They raised a son and daughter.

Clawson returned to work at Shadowline as sewing room supervisor, worked a few restaurant jobs and then took a job in the office of Watauga County Clerk of Court John T. Bingham in the 1970s.

Clawson didn't follow family tradition in becoming a Democrat; she hailed from deeply red Avery County, and her parents were Republicans. But she read a book about President John F. Kennedy following his 1963 assassination and said she was touched by the story of a wealthy man who cared for those with less means.

"I think that made an impression on me," she said. "I don't think any party can be totally the way you are. Being a lover of trees and the environment, I really decided that the Democratic Party had more leanings the way I believed."

Working on Bingham's campaign was her first introduction to politics, and electoral contests could be just as divisive and harsh then as they are today, she said.

"You'd think now that races are different, but they're really not," Clawson said. "It's just the way it is."

Clawson was employed the longest with the N.C. Department of Transportation, where she retired after 21 years. She served on the town of Boone's Community Appearance Commission and sign ordinance committee before friends encouraged her to run for town council in 1997. At that time, the board was "not as progressive" as it is now, Clawson said, as she and Jimmy Smith were the only two Democrats on the council. When Velma Burnley retired after 16 years as mayor, Clawson was elected to the post in 2005 and was re-elected in 2007 and 2009. (The town extended the mayoral term from two years to four years prior to the 2009 election.)

As leader of the council, Clawson has presided with an even-keeled temperament and courteous demeanor at the head of the dais, even when confronted by critics. She's a stickler for arriving on time, proudly boasting that for more than 16 years on the council, she only missed five meetings and arrived late at one. Clawson is known to work a room, affably greeting friends and strangers with hugs, enthusiastic exclamations and firm grasps of the hand. And, as she'll readily admit, she's never one to shy away from a photo opportunity -- including many ribbon cuttings, perhaps the most visible part of the mayor's job, she says.

"I do enjoy that. What that says to me is we're a vibrant community," Clawson said. But what people don't see, she said, is the countless hours spent responding to emails and scheduling meetings, to personally hear citizens' concerns. Clawson also attended numerous meetings not only as a council member, but also as a member of state and regional groups such as the High Country Council of Governments, Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, North Carolina League of Municipalities, Governor's Council on Aging and many others. In 2012, she was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Also last year, she received the state's Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award for her years of public service.

Clawson said she is pleased with many town accomplishments during her tenure, but included at the top of her list the steep slope and viewshed regulations enacted in 2006 after 42 meetings on the issue. And the eight-year mayor is extremely proud of the park and wetlands on the Boone Greenway Trail bearing her and Burnley's names -- achieved after the relocation of residences and a nursing home from a flood-prone area. Clawson said she had hoped to see the town's water project completed, but "we leave that to the new mayor and the new council."

After Tuesday's swearing-in of the new mayor and council members, Clawson said she's looking forward to an extended vacation and more time for family and travel. But now in her 60s and in good health, Clawson said she's not going to sit at home -- maybe she'll take a job at Tweetsie, she says -- and she's not leaving town, either.

"I can't give up Boone," she said. And, she may not be ready to leave politics just yet. "I do not rule out running for another political office," she said.

"I don't consider it a bad word," she said about being a politician. "It's someone who's trying to make a positive difference for others."