By Virginia Roseman (reprinted from The High Country Magazine, October/November 2013)
Just a year ago, Boone Mayor Loretta Guy Clawson was at the Jones House Cultural and Community Center in downtown Boone to accept one of North Carolina’s most prestigious honors. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine counts among its recipients Andy Griffith, Charles Kuralt, Dale Earnhardt, Billy Graham and…Loretta Carolyn Guy Clawson.
The “Long” in Order of the Long Leaf Pine could very well describe Clawson’s résumé—offices, appointments, volunteer work and leadership positions—in school, church, community, regional and state organizations and committees. When Clawson’s term ends in late 2013, she will have served as mayor for eight years. Prior to her time as mayor, she worked as the assistant clerk for the Watauga County Clerk of Court’s office, had a long career with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and served eight years on Town Council, with six of those years as Mayor Pro-Tem.
At the time of the ceremony, when called upon to make remarks, one simple statement from Clawson stood out: “It is just something that I have loved to do…I have loved the opportunity to serve.”
The journey to that milestone honor was not an easy one, but based on Clawson’s roots and upbringing, it could be said that she was born to it.
OLD BEECH MOUNTAIN COMMUNITY
An eighth-generation mountain girl, Clawson grew up just west of Boone in the very small community of Old Beech Mountain. Her great, great, great, great, great -grandfather Cutliff Hermann (changed to Harmon when his father came to the colonies) and his young wife Suzan Fouts (Pfautz) settled in what is now known as Cove Creek in the 1760s. For reference, Daniel Boone lived in the Yadkin Valley at this time and is said to have traveled to this area of North Carolina on hunting expeditions. Daniel Boone would take his game and leave, but Harmon would call this area his permanent home.
“Hermann is a Prussian-German name meaning ‘army man’ or ‘fearless man,’” said Clawson. “It was very appropriate for a person who was willing to set off to start a new life in an untamed frontier that only Cherokee claimed as a home.”
Cutliff’s wife Suzan and Daniel Boone’s wife Sarah were first cousins (and therefore Sarah and Daniel Boone are a part of Clawson’s lineage, as well). Cutliff worked as a trader for Daniel Boone, crossing the Appalachians to transport goods back and forth from the Yadkin Valley to Sycamore Shoals. During one of his trips, a wild path he chose to use took him through what is now Cove Creek. Declaring that it was one of the most beautiful spots on God’s earth, he traveled back to Rowan County to get his young bride and to make the Appalachians his home. The Harmon’s first home was at the huge rock overhang at the mouth of Phillips Branch, and can be seen as one travels U.S. 321 towards Tennessee. It is now known as “Harmon’s Rockhouse.”
In addition to Hermann and the Boones, other notable ancestors included Loretta’s mother Viola Ward Guy (“the strongest, most-loving and bravest woman ever”), father Enoch Guy (“a man who always thought of others”), and great, great, great-grandfather Duke Ward (“who came to Old Beech Mountain to marry cute-as-a-button Lucy Tester”). Duke Ward’s parents felt that the girl he had intended to marry was “not good enough” for their son. To keep the marriage from happening, Duke was forced to move to Tennessee toward the Cumberland Gap. But distance did not stop true love. Duke hiked back all by himself to Old Beech Mountain to marry Lucy Tester, and they went on to raise their family on the Tester’s land.
“I cherish the people of Old Beech Mountain, and the values they instilled in me growing up,” Clawson said.
Clawson’s parents, Enoch Guy and Viola Ward Guy, were a big part of that. Enoch and Viola married and together they lived in Old Beech Mountain right next door to Enoch’s parents, and raised two daughters. Clawson remembers her mom working so hard making clothes by hand. If her mother wasn’t sewing, she would be working on the family farm in the garden. This garden provided food for their family and very little needed to be bought from the store. Her mom canned a thousand cans each season, providing food for the entire winter.
“My mom was a superwoman. She could do everything! And she did everything with a smile and love,” remembered Clawson. “When I was young, my mom had to do everything because my dad would travel daily off the mountain to Lenoir Saw Mill, bringing home $25 a week to pay for all the family’s necessities.
“I have to give my parents a lot of credit for me becoming the person that I am today. My mother was a very hard working woman, where everything she did was for her family and our future. She would never complain about how hard a task was, as it had to be done. And my father worked so hard in the factories off the mountain, and brought back some of that progress back to Old Beech Mountain. While working, my father learned all he could about plumbing. He fixed ours—and my grandparent’s home—for complete indoor plumbing, and the next thing we knew, he had most every building in our area with plumbing. Why did he do that? Because he knew it was what the people of the area wanted and it would go on to make a better future for the next generation. Yes, hard work and thinking about the people and the future were instilled in me at a young age.”
FOZZIE & FREIDA
One vivid childhood memory for Clawson was of her father coming home from work from Lenoir Saw Mill with a cocker spaniel puppy. Enoch Guy would do just about anything for four-year-old Loretta, at the time an only child. Enoch thought his daughter needed responsibilities, as well as a friend.
“Momma was upset because Daddy was supposed to be bringing back paychecks, not puppies!” said Clawson. “But Daddy told her to look at how happy I was, and Mom eventually agreed. Fozzie [the puppy] became a member of the Guy family.”
Clawson is known by colleagues and the public as having a powerful speaking voice that projects well, and there’s a story among friends of Clawson that her voice was developed from training Fozzie.
“Yes, it’s very true,” said Clawson. “Having Fozzie may seem like a small thing, but those were important, formative moments in my childhood. Becoming a big sister was another very crucial moment.”
Less than two years after Fozzie joined, there was another addition to the Guy family with the birth of Clawson’s little sister, Freida.
“Oh, she was so beautiful and perfect, her curly red hair and big green eyes…she just made your heart melt, and everyone wanted to hold her and baby her,” said Clawson. “I knew that on that day, no longer was I my parents’ baby. No longer would I be the one everyone was coming over to see. I was now a big sister. Being a big sister meant I had to watch out for her, protect her, teach her to read and help teach her right from wrong. I had to make sure that I did my part to ensure that Freida would have a great life and future.”
Loretta took her role as a big sister very seriously. As time went on, and the girls went to school, Loretta always knew in the back of her mind that everything she would do, her little sister would be watching, and most likely following in her footsteps.
CHURCH & SCHOOL
Growing up in Old Beech Mountain meant that church and school were a major part of your community, and therefore your life. She attended Beech Mountain Elementary School, eventually becoming valedictorian for the graduating 8th grade class of 30 students. She was always eager to be involved, participating in activities and groups both at school and at Flat Springs Baptist Church.
“At Cranberry High School, I was dependent on the school bus to get back and forth, and would have actually preferred to have been even more involved,” said Clawson. “It was close to a one-hour bus ride from Old Beech Mountain Community to Cranberry High School.”
When it would snow, those bus rides basically doubled in riding time. Clawson recalled that back then, there was no such thing as a snow day because the school buses were how the snow got pushed.
Loretta still got to spread her wings during high school, where she was a member of the drill team, glee club, band and was part of the school’s business program—a program that prepared students to enter the workforce with typing, clerical and leadership skills. She was also the teacher for her church’s peers training union. When there was a need for a volunteer for a task, or a chairperson for a committee, Loretta was always quick to step up to the plate.
“Teachers began to describe me as a leader, but ‘listener’ would also have been a great way to describe it,’ said Clawson. “Whether it was back in school or today, to me, a large part of leadership is about being willing to serve and willing to listen. It is amazing how much can get accomplished by taking the time to listen.”
MEETING L.D. CLAWSON & MARRIAGE
The year before Loretta graduated high school, a group of youths came up the mountain from Poga, Tennessee to visit Old Beech Mountain Community, and made friends with the some of the kids that attended Loretta’s church. At a church function, Loretta became smitten with one of the strangers, a dark-haired youth named L.D. Clawson.
“There was a running joke in my family about how I wouldn’t be able to date anyone from Old Beech Mountain or the surrounding area, because odds were that they’d be my cousin!” Loretta said. “When kids and teens would get together, it would become sort of a game to see how long it would take to figure out how we were connected. When the Poga youths came visiting, the joke was that they were told the same thing back in their hometown!”
It was pretty much love at first sight for Loretta and the stranger with the strange name. His name was just “L.D.” He joked with Loretta that being from a big family of 11 kids, his parents just ran out of names. Courting in the mountains meant taking long drives, and on many spring and summer evenings, Loretta and L.D. would attend the Stateline Drive-In movie theater with several of their friends. Their long-distance relationship continued and following Loretta’s high school graduation in 1963, they decided to get married.
At the time of their marriage, jobs in the mountains were hard to come by. Many young persons would move out of the mountains to seek work. Newlyweds Loretta and L.D. took this same path, moving to Lexington, North Carolina after their marriage. Both had good jobs in Lexington, with Loretta entering textile manufacturing, working for Manhattan Shirt Company sewing on back collar buttons (remember those?).
While the job was good and so was the money, Loretta’s heart wasn’t in it. She was very homesick. She badly missed being able to walk out her front door and just be able to see trees and mountain slopes. L.D. and Loretta talked about the situation and both agreed that they would give Lexington two more years. True to his word, two years later, L.D. asked Loretta if she was still homesick and unable to make a home of Lexington.
“I replied with zero hesitation,” said Loretta. “Yes. I love you, but please take me back to the mountains.”
BACK TO THE MOUNTAINS
Within a month’s time, Lexington was in the Clawson’s car rearview mirror. Before departing Lexington, however, L.D. and Loretta had discussed that if they were going to have a family, then they wanted to move to a town where it would be desirable to raise children. Putting a lot of thought into it, the Clawsons felt the pull of Boone, and that’s where they decided to settle. Both were very happy about their decision.
“We were back in the mountains, in a beautiful town that we both used to visit when we were younger,” said Loretta. “I remember coming to the ‘city’ at least once a year and seeing all the people. My family came to sell some tobacco and then we would go out to eat at one of the diners on King Street.”
Coming back to the mountains was magical. Driving into the area, they saw Howard’s Knob, looking as if it was watching over the town. And, of course, Loretta saw trees.
“Oh, how I loved all the trees in Boone—that was one of the major things I was missing at our place in Lexington. Boone was beautiful, and now it was to be my home!” said Clawson.
Loretta and L.D. started their Boone life in a small singlewide trailer that was located on Straight Street, just past the courthouse. L.D. went to work for the college, working in building services. Loretta continued in textile manufacturing, taking a position at Shadowline Lingerie. Very soon after she started, she was promoted to a floor supervisor position, in large part because the owners recognized how outgoing Loretta was. Life was good in Boone for the Clawsons, and several years went by quickly at the single-wide on Straight Street.
The young family had plans to have children and they had been saving to build a home. Their home on VFW Drive wasn’t quite finished, however, in time for their first child. Just as their time on Straight Street was coming to an end, son Larry Dean was born.
MOTHERHOOD & A NEW CHAPTER
Clawson noted that when she became a mother, she embarked on a very different chapter of her life. Major changes in her life included turning in her notice at Shadowline to stay home. Daughter Sheri Lea joined the family not too much farther down the road. Later, when she began to transition back to the workforce, her choices were made to accommodate being a parent. Since L.D. worked evenings, her first job back was breakfast management at Ray’s King Burgers located at what is now Bojangles. It was a hard job, and she had to rise extremely early to ensure the staff was at work getting ready for the breakfast crowd before 5:30 am.
“I did not mind; I worked mornings and L.D. worked evenings and WE raised our kids!” said Clawson proudly. “L.D. and I wanted to do everything we could for our family and to be sure that we were the ones raising them.”
There were sacrifices, but the Clawsons appreciated their life. Not only did they have their children, but a place to call home. Working hard at opposite hours for the children and family’s sake meant that there were times that they didn’t see as much of each other as they would have wished.
“There were times when we hardly saw each other, but when we did have time together, it was always special,” said Clawson. “Who knows…maybe that sacrifice of being apart was a key to building a strong marriage.”
ENTERING PUBLIC SERVICE
While Loretta was working mornings at Ray’s King Burgers, one of her regulars asked her if she would be interested in coming to work for him. Working for John T. Bingham, Clerk of Court for Watauga County, opened new opportunities for Loretta the working mother. Better hours and better pay made for a better-rested, better-focused matriarch, and the position helped Loretta blossom into an activist for her county and her town.
Shortly after starting her new position at the office of the Clerk of Court, John T. Bingham was up for re-election. Loretta had always cared deeply for her community and had always been active in holding board memberships, offices and other positions for the many organizations that would enter her life, especially if her children’s future and well-being could be helped by her doing so. Joining Bingham’s campaign staff and participating in his run for office helped Loretta think more about her own personal philosophy. She realized that though she was a Republican by birth, her heart was more in line with Democratic views, and she switched her political affiliation during the summer of 1976.
“I got a glimpse of what local government at its best could accomplish for a community, and I was hooked. To understand how public servants could help represent and share the viewpoints of all the various people in a community and enact changes for their benefit…I saw great potential for good,” said Clawson.
Clawson’s volunteerism increased. In an extension of being a mother and participating in programs at their school, such as Grade Mother, she realized that by being an active member in her community, she was going to make a better future for her children, Larry and Sheri. Armed with more knowledge about what it took to be part of change in a community, Loretta could not wait to find as many organizations as she could to help, including the local Democratic Party.
Clawson also continued her own personal development and education, enrolling in college working towards a degree in business administration, doing paralegal work and earning a real estate/broker license. In 1981, Loretta was offered and accepted a position with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Like all of their big family decisions, Loretta and L.D. made it jointly, and the decision led to a long and rewarding career.
TOWN OF BOONE SERVICE, APPALACHIAN HISTORY & MOUNTAIN LIFE
Among Clawson’s volunteer service, some of her major interests included preserving Appalachian history and mountain life. One committee she was very proud to serve on was the former Appearance Commission, which is now divided into two separate groups: Community Appearance Commission and Tree Board. Over decades of living in the mountains, like other longtime residents, Clawson has witnessed the environmental changes.
On the Appearance Commission, Loretta and others fought hard for protections to help preserve the natural beauty of the mountains. The topic of trees became such a prominent part of the committee’s work, that eventually it got its own board.
“I love trees. They [trees] can provide us with so many things that people need…food, shade, shelter, and warmth, among other things,” said Clawson. “But the greatest thing is that they give hope. After a bad winter and a tree has taken a beating, it stands back up straight in the spring and stretches its limbs to the sun growing stronger, then through its strength hold leaves, fruit and life in its branches while providing shelter for those in need. Then the fall comes and the beauty of the mountainside fills with amazing colors putting on its best performance of the year, then rest again in the winter for the next year’s encore. How could I not be passionate about saving and replenishing the trees? I wanted my children to have that same love with God and nature as I did, and without the trees, I just didn’t see how that could be.”
In 1996, Loretta entertained the idea of running for Boone Town Council. Her kids were now off spreading their wings, and Loretta was wanting to see if she could spread hers, as well. Of course she discussed this crucial decision with L.D. and the kids, and they all cheered her on, because if anyone could work for people and represent their views and interests, it was Loretta.
When asked why she chose to run, the response was simple, “If I didn’t, then who would and would that person represent the people of Boone? Just as I love my family, I love my community, and I will do everything within my power for those I love,” said Clawson.
In the 1997 municipal elections, Clawson was the top vote-getter in the Town of Boone. She was lucky enough to have been elected to serve on the Town Council with Mayor Velma Burnley. The Democrats were the minority on the Boone Town Council that year, but the two Democrats worked well with the Republicans for the most part, and together began to solidify Boone’s place as one of the most appealing cities in the Appalachians. People began to flock to Boone, not simply to visit but also to live there. The people relocating in the late 1990s and early 2000s seemed to be coming because of how beautiful Boone was. The mountain way of life was important to them, as was the natural beauty of the mountains. The town was progressive, but retained the charm of a simpler way of life.
In 2005, Mayor Velma Burnley decided not to seek re-election. Clawson, at the time Mayor Pro-Tem, once again stepped up to the plate just as she always had. Boone was in need of a mayor that would understand the desires of the people. People that resided in Boone or that chose to move to Boone wanted to preserve its heritage and beauty while being one of North Carolina’s greatest communities.
On Tuesday, October 11, 2005, Loretta was elected to the office of mayor. Since, she has gone on to accomplish this feat an additional three times. Of her 16 years in office, Clawson has many achievements that were dear to her heart (including the Tree Board!). Among her favorite projects and accomplishments were neighborhood preservation, the building of new community parks, Historical Preservation Board, strengthening relations and communication with the university and the development of the 2030 plan.
“The one thing that I am most proud of is the passing of the steep slope protections. The community was crying out with outrage at the careless developments,” said Clawson. “It was a marathon…42 meetings alone! But, it was a no-brainer and I was going to fight to the end for the people of Boone.”
Clawson explained that the steep slope protections were not just about beauty. They were also about safety for both people living on the slopes and under slope developments. Water quality, geological impact, landslide prevention, and so much more, they were all at stake. Preserving the beauty of Boone was a big part, but not the only part.
“I am proud that now developers must take the future into account, not just today. They have to take their neighbors into account, also. Boone deserves the best. Boone deserves a future that will stand for beauty, history, preservation and integrity,” said Clawson.
Clawson is not seeking a fourth term. For her past political wins, she gives credit to a skill she learned young in life during her leadership roles.
“I learned to listen to the people that I serve. I represent the people in the Town of Boone. I fought for the things they wanted, answered their cries for help in making Boone a safe and beautiful place for them to live in. These things are important to the people, and I work for the people,” said Clawson.
“In my heart I am not ready to leave, but I know that at this point in my life this is what I need to do,” said Clawson. “I have loved everything about this office and being a part of Boone. This is where L.D. and I chose to call home, where we chose to raise our children, and where together we have always done what we have believed to be the best for our community and for future generations to come. I am so honored to have had the life I have lived.”
Asked about future pursuits, Loretta is quick to point out that their family is growing. She and L.D. have gained a lovely daughter-in-law, Alicia, and are grandparents to Alex (8) and Nick (4). Both Loretta and L.D. hope to be spoiling their grandkids and becoming very active members in their lives for many years to come. “My family is my greatest achievement in life!” said Clawson. “And I’ve never needed to leave the area to reach my dreams because they were and are right here in front of me.”
When asked specifically about political pursuits, Clawson began her answer with a smile and a shrug. “I never make family decisions without talking to L.D. first,” said Clawson. “But you know me…if there is a need, I am the type of person who fills that space. We will just have to wait and see. Right now, I am simply looking forward to spending more time with my family.”