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Friends, colleagues honor retiring clerk

December 30, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - More than 250 people crowded into Citizens Fire Co. Wednesday night to pay tribute to Jefferson County Clerk John Ott, who has been a mainstay in Jefferson County government for 35 years.

Ott was recognized for his outstanding management of the county clerk's office, his smooth handling of county elections over the years, his dedication to customer service and his efficiency in handling and storing land records and other documents.

Ott was remembered as a "fatherly figure in the courthouse" and he was showered with gifts and awards.

Ott was presented with a Distinguished Mountaineer Award from Gov.-elect Joe Manchin and a Distinguishable West Virginian Award.

The latter award, the highest honor that can come from the state, was sent by Gov. Bob Wise.

Those in attendance said Ott would rather have bowed out quietly. Ott was reserved during most of the event, but made occasional statements.

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"I'm overwhelmed by the generosity I've seen tonight," Ott told the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation near the end of the event.

Ott, who has been elected to six consecutive six-year terms, decided last February he would step down.

Ott said if he would have run again and won, he would have been 82 when he completed his term, which he said is "too long."

The bar associations in Jefferson and Berkeley counties as well as a number of law firms in the Eastern Panhandle sponsored the dinner at the local fire company for Ott.

After the dinner, many local lawyers, former and current Jefferson County Commission members, mayors and others who have worked with Ott over the years heaped accolades on him.

Ott's dedication to hiring excellent workers and the accuracy in his work was mentioned several times Wednesday night by friends, including Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson.

Tabb said even though he lost in the 2000 primary election by three votes, he knew there was no reason to ask for a vote recount from Ott's office.

"I'll say one thing about Mr. Ott, he's ran that office with integrity," Tabb said.

Local attorney Roger Perry marveled at the fact that there has never been any problems with corruption in Jefferson County government, unlike other parts of the state.

"No vote-buying, no nothing. A lot of that credit went to the person running the elections," Perry said.

With his extensive knowledge about county government and local history, Ott was always up for a discussion on the day's affairs. Speakers at Wednesday's dinner recounted memorable stories involving Ott, and his humor.

Local attorney John Skinner said Ott gave up smoking several years ago, but still keeps a pack of cigarettes in his desk drawer.

"When doomsday came he was going to light up again," Skinner said.

Ranson (W.Va.) Mayor David Hamill said he remembered when he went to Ott's office to register to vote.

Hamill said Ott asked him if he was a Republican or a Democrat.

"I said, 'I don't know.' He said, 'I guess you're a Democrat,''' Hamill said.

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