Once in a great while a person has the opportunity to meet someone who is truly special.
Such is the case when I had the chance to get to know retiring county manager Dennis Thompson.
Transferring from the education to government beats, I must admit that I wasn’t that thrilled with the prospect of having to cover budget meetings and those interminable get-togethers that local governing bodies seem to need to have every other week.
I did it because, well, I hadn’t been here long enough to say “no.” Besides, I have a bit of experience writing the kind of stuff required so I really didn’t have a leg to stand on.
So I must admit I went into my first meeting with Thompson with a bit of trepidation, not directed at him per se, rather at the prospect of having to get involved in the inevitable squabbles such coverage requires.
Walking into his office, however, all of that reluctance faded away as our eyes locked for the first time. I saw kindness, caring and honesty. I saw a wealth of knowledge that can only be gained through experience.
I immediately felt at ease.
Thompson is the kind of man who doesn’t make a lot of waves, but through simple decency can make even those who don’t agree with him at least respect his position.
I only had the chance to work with the outgoing county manager for a couple of months, but during that time I found him to be easily accessible and able to speak authoritatively on every subject under his watch.
Over the past few days, I contacted just a few of the people who have worked with him and asked them whether they’d like to say anything about Thompson on the eve of his retirement.
Their answers spoke volumes:
• “He personifies the profession absolutely. Dennis Thompson’s knowledge of the job, and the respect he has in the county and throughout the state says a lot about the kind of person he is. This is a man who retired, came back to work at our request and still performed at the highest level imaginable. Once again, we’re dreading the moment he walks out the door.” R.F. “Buck” Golding, Board of Commissioners chairman.
• “I can say without any hesitation that it’s been a truly rewarding experience to work with someone of Dennis Thompson’s calibre. He’s not only been a great county manager, but a great and dear friend as well.” Commissioner Garry Scearce.
• “I’ve never heard him utter a cross word or say anything unkind about anyone. He’s a true gentleman who leads by example. I’m truly going to miss him, not only as a county manager, but as a friend.” Commissioner Eddie Harris.
• “Dennis never changes. He instinctively knows what needs to be done. He’s been a true wealth of knowledge and a true friend both in and outside of county government. His retirement will leave a big void in my life.” Commissioner Paul Johnson.
• “He means everything to me. I think all of us commissioners understand things better because we’ve learned from Dennis how to treat people. He’s honest, fair and does a great job for the county. He’s been a great example to all his employees. We hate to see him leave, but wish him nothing but the best.” Commissioner Jimmy Miller.
• “Dennis has displayed considerable wisdom as a manager, supervisor, mentor, co-worker and friend. He’s been an inspiration not only to me, but to all those around him. He’s displayed great integrity in managing the county and providing for the needs of our citizens while also considering our county employees.” Clerk to the Board of Commissioners Conchita Atkins.
• “I’ve been with the county for 12 years. Seven of those years have been with Dennis as my county manager. For the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of being his secretary. Dennis has taught me that staying calm and simply listening helps you respond more effectively. He is a man full of wisdom and knowledge, one that will truly be missed. He’s irreplaceable.” Administrative Secretary Vickey Wood.
I guess what I’m trying to say, Dennis, is you’re the kind of man I aspire to be.
Care to stick around for another decade or two?
Keith Strange is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at email@example.com or 719-1929.