Celebrating Bootsie

Newton marks Bootsie Roberts Day

She worked for nine city managers and five different Newton mayors.
She helped create and develop Newton's first public information office position and the city's first citywide newsletter.

She even helped coordinate Newton's hospitality for 166 Special Olympics Athletes from Germany, as well as the city's Sesquicentennial celebration, its Human Relations Council and the annual Unity Day Celebration. In 2008, she received the Catawba Valley Community College Foundation's "Outstanding Contribution" award for her role in promoting diversity in the community through those and other initiatives.

And during 30 years of service to the city of Newton, Buenice "Bootsie" Roberts has seen plenty of things change in her hometown.

In fact, when Roberts accepted a job with the city in 1971, she held a position that has long since been replaced by technology.

"Things have changed a lot since that time. I was a desk clerk and radio dispatch operator," she said of her position in the city's utilities department. "Meter readers would call in their readings to me, and I had to figure out everyone's light, water and sewer bill using a calculator. We have come a long way since then."

As Newton marked Roberts' retirement with "Bootsie Roberts Day" on Wednesday, it became clear that she, too, has come a long way.

"We're saying farewell to a dear friend and a most loyal public servant," said Newton Mayor Robert A. Mullinax. "Bootsie has been a friend to all of us and will continue to be our friend. Her service and dedication to the city of Newton has been second to none."

Newton City Manager Todd Clark echoed that sentiment.

"She has a wealth of knowledge about the city and the citizens, and she is a great asset to the City Council and the various boards and commissions," he said. "In many ways, she has been able to coordinate communication between many different groups — citizens, city councils, boards and commissions —  and internally between department heads and the city manager, as well. When she walks out the door, we'll lose a valuable asset and resource."

Roberts started work for the city after graduating from Newton-Conover High School and later Durham Business College. She worked two years in the city's utilities department, before leaving to Pontiac, Mich., in 1973.

"It was so cold there, my bones couldn't stand it. I had to come back home," she said of her short stint in Michigan. "Newton has always been my first love."

She returned to Newton and started work for the Newton branch of the Catawba County library. Ten years later, in 1983, she returned to public service. This time around she started as secretary to Newton's city manager and assistant city clerk.

"I developed the public information officer position working under (former Newton City Manager) Rick French," she said, adding that role started as an employee, then citywide newsletter. "From that point on is when things changed."

Roberts started researching public information programs and developed a similar position for Newton based on Greensboro's model. In 1990, she became the city's first public information officer.

While serving as Newton's public information officer and developing the position, Roberts gradually moved toward the city clerk's office. In 1997, she became public information director/deputy city clerk, and in 2005, she became Newton's city clerk. During that time, she got a deeper understanding of the city's inner-workings.

"I learned that the city manager, the city council and the mayor have to make hard decisions for the city, and I better understood how tough the decisions are for them," she said. "By being involved in taking minutes, being at planning sessions, workshops and budget sessions, I could see they always had the citizens' best interests at heart."

While in that role of city clerk, she completed 120 hours of work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's School of Government and fulfilled all the needed requirements to become a certified municipal clerk.

That job concluded officially Dec. 22, as Roberts leaves work to spend more time with her family, including her husband Frank who has been sick since July. She said she "feels good" about the decision to retire.

"I am a Christian, and I believe in asking the Lord to order my steps and he so ordered it. He told me my place was to be with my family," she said, adding her 86-year-old mother lives with her. "I also think about people who are without jobs and looking for jobs. I was blessed to work somewhere for 30 years with good benefits, and now there is somebody out there trying to start a new life and career for their family. I can give that up to let somebody start their career."

Interestingly, as Roberts leaves, Mullinax is mayor of Newton. When she was first hired in 1971, the mayor then was named Mullinax, too.

"I started my career under Loyd Mullinax, and I am ending it under his son," she said. "I think it is a full circle."

Leaving employment with Newton, she plans to stay in the city — in a home on the same Newton street where she was raised. She and Frank have three children, a daughter-in-law and a son-in-law, four grandsons and a grand dog. She's also a member of Morningstar First Baptist Church in Hickory.

She said she'll be taking retirement "one day at a time," as "every day is a blessed day." As she does, she said she'll remember the people who worked alongside her in public service for 30 years.

"I have always been raised by my parents to treat people as I would like to be treated. I got along, I felt, with everyone, and I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to work with," she said. "No matter how many different times there might have been turnover, the staff has always been good to work with. They believed in teamwork and pitching in when they needed to.

"I'll miss working with good people, and when that is most of your day — most of your time away from home is spent working — it makes a difference," she said.