Henderson County Clerk Gwen Moffeit has been in her new office at the Henderson County Courthouse Annex for about three years, but so many memories still live in the century old building across the street.
Moffeit has been in county government for about 35 years, spending more than thirty in the old courthouse, until her office and others housed in the structure outgrew their historic homes. Last fall, after nearly a quarter-of-a-century as the custodian of countless county records, Moffeit decided not to seek a seventh term as clerk, a decision that came after much consideration and prayer.
“I still love the job, but it’s time,” Moffeit said. “I’m a people person, always have been and that’s why I’ve always enjoyed the job.”
Gwen Owen was born in Jacksonville, Texas and grew up in Brownsboro. In high school she was homecoming queen and head cheerleader, exhorting her beloved Bears.
A couple of years after graduation she became part of the staff under County Clerk Joe Dan Fowler. In 1970, when the county population was about one-third of the current number, there were only five working in the office. Moffeit employs 13.
“Back then, everything, was hand written or typed into the books and the records,” Moffeit said.
Her first stay in the clerk's office lasted about three years, then she left for the birth of her first daughter. When she returned in the 80s, it was for an eight year stay. Winston Reagan was county judge, but Fowler still ran the Clerk’s office.
When Fowler decided to retire, he encouraged Moffeit to be his successor. That was at a time when most of the County Clerk's in the state were still men.
“When the older clerks retired, in many cases their chief deputy were women, so one of those would run and win the office,” Moffeit said. “It was accepted pretty well, I think.”
Like most East Texas Counties, Henderson County had been a Democratic stronghold. Bucking the trend, she decided to run as a Republican. As recently as 1985 there were no Republicans in the courthouse. By the time Moffeit was elected, County Court at Law Judge Matt Livingston had been appointed to office as a Republican. Moffeit was the first from the party to be elected to a county-wide office.
“I put a lot of thought into it and decided to run Republican,” Moffeit said. “I prayed about it. I felt the Republican Party better suited my beliefs.”
Moffeit remembers the year 1990 as one of the most trying of her life. In May, her brother died, then in October, after a lingering illness, she lost her father, James Robert Owen.
“God gave me the peace I needed and brought me through it,” Moffeit said. “It was one of the happiest days of my life, when they told me I had won.”
In November 1990, Moffeit defeated her Democratic opponent with 53 percent of the vote. On January 1, she was sworn in by Livingston.
Moffeit believes that most conflicts that arise with the customers can be resolved with a genuine, caring attitude. Sometimes an employee comes to her office and reports that a citizen it getting angry about how things are going.
“I'll immediately get up, go out and try to help him," Moffeit said. “I'll say, 'Let's see if I can help us work out our problem.”
That always goes a long way toward resolving the tension, Moffeit said.
Assistant County Clerk Leticia Carpenter has watched Moffeit at work since 2001 and has appreciated the way she handles the position.
“It has been an honor to work for Gwen, she is an great example of what a public servant should be,” Carpenter said. She will be greatly missed in the office and in the County.”
For years, Moffeit was also the county elections administrator, before the Commissioners Court chose to make that a separate office. Moffeit spent many nights in March and November presiding over the counting of ballots and keeping candidates and citizens who crowded into the courthouse up to date with intermediate tallies. Sometimes the counting lasted well past midnight.
“They really were fun, stressful, but fun," Moffeit said. ”The hardest part was, when the final votes were tallied, having to report to the Democratic and Republican Party chairmen what the totals were and who won or lost. There was a lot of buildup to that moment, because we ran subtotals throughout the night.”
On Tuesday mornings, you’ll usually find her at Commissioners Court, where she keeps the official minutes at each meeting. Moffeit has been in office for all or part of the terms of County Judges Tommy Smith, Aubrey Jones (who served the remainder of Smith's unexpired term), David Holstein and Richard Sanders
"We work on a daily basis with the County Judge's Office,” Moffeit said. “I’ve respected all of them.”
Down the lobby from the Clerk’s Office, County Tax Assessor Milburn Chaney takes payments from customers. He’s been in office since the 80s, his terms overlapping Moffeit’s.
“I’ve known Gwen since she was a cheerleader at Brownsboro,” Chaney said. “She’s a friend and a good person. We’ll miss her here.”
Gwen and her husband Danny dated in high school and have been married for 43 years. He's regional manager for Bill Day Tires in Tyler. They're longtime members of the Leagueville Baptist Church.
The Moffeits raised two daughters, Misty Wilmeth and Amy Cooper and today proudly include four grandchildren in the family, a 16-year-old boy and three girls, ages 9, 6 and 6. Seeing the young ones grow up is one of the factors that influenced Moffeit's decision to retire.
“I’ve always loved these records from births to marriages and at the other end of people’s lives, death records,” Moffeit said. “I realize the importance of them. They have to be here after we’re gone.”
After January 1, the books and files will be someone else’s responsibility, but the grandkids should get plenty of attention.