December 29, 2010 EditionAlso in this issue...
Justice of the Peace Junior Briner (left) presented a plaque to County Judge Alex Latham, thanking him for his 22 years of service to Lawrence County during a reception in Latham's honor at the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon. Latham's wife, Lynda, was among the large crowd of well-wishers in attendance.
TD Photo ~ Gloria Wilkerson
After more than two decades as Lawrence County Judge, Alex Latham of Portia will leave his office on Dec. 31. It will be a bittersweet experience, he said. Latham is the longest serving county judge in the history of the county and said he has appreciated the opportunity.
After serving on the quorum court for six years, Latham said that people began to encourage him to run for county judge in 1978.
"One morning I woke up and thought maybe I could make a difference," he said. He won the election and has held the office for 22 years. He has now been through 11 campaigns, one every two years.
He decided earlier this year that it was time to retire as county judge. Instead, he ran for a justice of the peace position and will again serve on the Lawrence County Quorum Court.
The county has seen a lot of improvements during his term as county judge.
"We have made a lot of road improvements, and replaced all of Lawrence County's 134 wooden bridges with concrete structures or railroad cars," Latham said. "Our road department now has improved equipment through the rotating system we have used. We have upgraded at least one piece of equipment per year or more as money allowed."
The county judge is also primarily over the county's 911 system. "I'm really proud of our 911 system," said Latham. "It's one of the best in the state. We now have centerline mapping and work on the enhanced 911 has been completed."
Latham was also instrumental in the county's decision to join the Northeast Arkansas Intermodal Authority.
"Getting the Intermodal Authority in place will be a big asset to Lawrence County, as well as Randolph and Clay counties," Latham said. "The Authority will help bring many jobs to this area in the near future."
Latham said that as county judge he has been privileged to have the opportunity to work with state and congressional leaders.
"I have enjoyed being a public servant," said Latham. "As county judge I have been able to help people in some small ways, and just a little help can go a long way for individuals. That's a good thing about this job."
He said that during the past 22 years he has had a few bad days, as anyone does with any job, and he would wonder if it might be time to leave the office. "But there was still a little fire in the belly to keep me going and more that I wanted to accomplish."
Latham said his wife Lynda has always supported him 100 percent. "You can't be a county judge without your wife's support," he said. "Many times you have to put the county's needs before those of your family because that's your job. You can't be effective without that support, and I can't thank her enough for the support she has given me through the years."
Latham and Lynda have been married for 46 years, and for 37 of those years owned and operated Latham's Grocery in Portia. They sold their business a few years ago, but Lynda continued to work there for the new owners until she retired recently. The couple have one daughter, Angela, who lives in Jonesboro.
"It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as county judge, and I appreciate the opportunity and the support from the citizens of Lawrence County," said Latham. "I wanted to leave my office with the county in good financial shape. I take pride in having been able to balance the county's budget all these years."
"The hardest thing for me about leaving this job will be not working with the public," Latham said. "I worked 10 years at Big Star in Walnut Ridge, and 37 years at our grocery store as well as in the county judge's office. The people you work with and those you get to know from around the county become like family, and I will miss them."
Latham said he feels he is leaving the county in good hands with Dale Freeman, Lawrence County judge-elect.
"I think Lawrence County is fortunate to have him as county judge. Dale is a good leader, he is conservative and likes to work with people," Latham said. "He will be a good public servant. I wish him well and will help him any way I can from my quorum court position."
Latham said he has no special plans for his retirement. He still raises cattle and plans to mow his yard and raise a garden and see what each day brings. He said that he and Lynda have agreed not to take on anything new for at least six months.
"We have really been blessed throughout our lives," he said.
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