Artie McLaurin was one of the first people I met when we moved to Bastrop in the summer of 1972. She served on the pulpit committee who recommended that my father be called to pastor a new congregation that had split off from the larger Baptist Church in Bastrop. I liked her from the beginning. She was the City Secretary for the City of Bastrop and her hand was firmly on the rudder that kept the city chugging along in the right direction.
When my first year of college was completed and I was home for the summer, Artie asked me to do some part time work in the city offices. I performed various tasks for her, mostly involving her duties as the City's tax assessor-collector. I posted tax payments and spent days at the courthouse extracting legal descriptions from recent deed transactions. In those days, the City offices consisted of a utility department on one side of the building and the Mayor and Tax Office were on the other side. The Police department was in the basement. I'm not sure how many people were in the utility department at that time, but the police department consisted of the Chief of Police. The Mayor had an office, but was seldom there. Artie was a one woman show, keeping the City's business running smoothly. She acted as City Secretary, City Tax Assessor-Collector, the City Financial Officer and Police Dispatcher.
After Artie had gotten me somewhat familiar with the daily routine, she dropped the bombshell that she was taking a vacation and needed someone to man the office while she was gone. She was too organized to have much work that needed doing while she was gone, but someone needed to be there to answer the phone, take the odd tax payment, issue a check here and there to various contract maintenance folks, and get hold of the Mayor if someone came in to pay a ticket. Oh, and by the way, if someone called in a police emergency, I needed to find Adell, the Chief of Police. That was the one that scared me silly. I had a police radio in the office, but I was terrified of using it. Thankfully my instructions in the event of a police matter was to call the Sheriff's Department and let them find Adell. Adell spent the entire day moving around the City, checking in and checking out and I just could not keep track of the man.
So I spent a week, or maybe it was two, all by myself in the City offices. The mayor would check in once a day for his mail, Adell would drift in and out, and the rest of the time I answered the phone and took messages. Artie had left me what she thought would be several days of odd jobs that I finished up before the first day was over. I listened to the police radio and worried that something would come up that would require me to call the Sheriff's office. I taught myself how to use the old-fashioned calculator with the rows and rows of numbers that would bounce back and forth as it ran its calculations. I read the ancient books of the City minutes that were stored in the huge walk-in vault. I managed not to screw up anything and I only had to call the Sheriff's office once.
I guess I did okay, because Artie called me back to fill in for her during other summer breaks and I was occasionally called to fill in when the librarian needed to be away. I enjoyed the days at the library very much. In those days there was only the one employee and you might see a half-dozen people through the day. I had long days to explore the contents of the library and hours to read in peace and get paid for doing so.
Artie McLaurin was my first real boss. After I graduated college and began working full time in Austin, I seldom saw her. When my father left the ministry briefly after my parents' divorce, I continued to play piano for the church for awhile but eventually I resigned my position and I only saw her a few times after that. But it was Artie who, after my father's second ex-wife died, helped organize an estate sale and saw to it that some family relics that had remained in the house after that divorce were returned to me.
The last time I saw her was when she and her husband attended the memorial service we held for Mother at the park. She was the same Artie. I enjoyed getting to visit with her again.
It was quite a jolt when I heard this past week that she had died. Somehow I always pictured her as she was when at the helm of the City. Quietly competent, generous, patient, caring and timeless. She was a good woman who made a considerable contribution to the City of Bastrop.
She will be missed.