Gay ready for retirement after 40 years with county
by SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
County Commissioners come and go, but for the past 20 years in Coweta County, the man in charge has been Theron Gay.
Gay is retiring at the end of the week, after 20 years as Coweta County Administrator, and 40 years working for Coweta County.
A reception honoring him will be held at the Coweta County Fairgrounds Tuesday from 5 to 8 pm., and the public is invited.
Gay never set out to be the county administrator — in fact, he turned down the job once, preferring to remain at the tax assessor’s office. But when the job was open again, in 1993, the commissioners asked him to take it, and he decided he was ready for it.
Gay was born in Newnan but spent his younger years in eastern Alabama, where his family is originally from. His family returned to Coweta when he was in junior high school.
Gay started his career with Coweta County just a few years later — in his junior year of high school he worked at the former Coweta General Hospital as a nursing assistant.
Gay worked at the hospital all through high school and college, eventually becoming a respiratory therapy technician. And it wasn’t part-time work, either. He was working full-time, five days a week, from 3 to 11 p.m.
Pretty good training for those long hours as a county administrator.
Gay attended what was then West Georgia College in Carrollton, now the University of West Georgia, where he studied planning and geography, and graduated with honors.
While in college he had applied for a job with a state agency. “I didn’t get that job, but they said — ‘When you graduate come back and see us.’”
When he graduated he applied for a job with that agency and Gay was “really waiting for that job to come open” when he saw an ad in The Newnan Times-Herald for a job at the Coweta County Tax Assessor’s Office. He applied for it and was offered the job.
Then the state agency called and offered him that job.
“I said, ‘I think I’m going to work for Coweta,’” Gay said. He figured the job would be closer to home and he wouldn’t have to drive as much.
At the assessor’s office, “I tried to work really hard, study really hard,” Gay said. After about a year or so he was named to the board of assessors and a few years after that, he was chairman of the board and head of the department.
When former County Administrator Vernon “Mutt” Hunter retired, several people suggested Gay apply for the job. So he did.
But then he decided he would stay with the assessor’s office. “We were managing some big projects that were coming up,” Gay said. “The timing was just really not right.”
Gay said he wanted to get a little more experience in the workforce and “learn a little bit more about the county.”
During those years, the assessor’s office embarked on the first county-wide reappraisal since 1974. It was a big undertaking with long hours.
At the time, his kids were young and his wife, Kay, was working the night shift as a nurse.
So Gay would take their children, Jim and Ashley, along when he was out reviewing properties in the evening. “I would put them in the back seat and I would kind of make it into a little game,” he said. “They would help me read the map, and help me find the properties.
“They thought it was a game. They didn’t realize I was really working,” Gay said.
A few years later, when the administrator’s job once again came open, Gay decided he was ready.
Working in the assessor’s office was good experience for being county administrator. “It helped me understand the tax structure. I understood where our dollars came from and how important that was,” he said. “I also understood the budget because I had been managing that office.”
Coweta County has changed a lot since 1993.
When Gay first started working for the county, everything shut down at lunch on Wednesday, and offices were open on Saturday mornings.
The early 1990s were when Coweta really started to grow.
“Our building permits in the early to mid ‘90s were really kind of phenomenal,” Gay said. The population grew dramatically, as did the business community.
And, of course, the work load. When Gay became county administrator, there were no assistant administrators. Now there are two assistants and one associate administrator.
Gay knew the job was going to be challenging when he started it. One thing that appealed to him was the variety.
“The assessor’s office is a lot of the same thing over and over,” Gay said. “I also enjoyed being able to try to help people.”
Gay is still relatively young — only 56 — but he’s been eligible to retire for a few years.
He and Kay have long planned to retire while young enough to enjoy it. She retired a few months ago.
“I’ve seen far too many people — some of them have been my friends — who have worked so long they really are not able to enjoy their retirement.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time here,” Gay said last week from a small conference room in the County Administration Building on East Broad Street. His office is already cleaned out, to make room for incoming administrator Michael Fouts.
Early retirement is “a goal that we have worked toward for a long time.”
To begin with, he’s going to “try to relax a little bit.”
But those who know him know “I don’t relax well.”
“I have to be doing something,” Gay said. “I have a lot of things to do.” That includes working on the house and spending time on the tractor. “I like to work outside,” Gay said.
After all these years, will Gay be able to “turn it off?”
“I think I can,” he said. “I don’t sit around easily. As long as I can find something to do and keep myself busy, I’ll be fine.”
He’ll certainly miss the people. “Because I made a lot of friends in Newnan and Coweta,” Gay said.
But he won’t miss the 24/7 aspect of the job. “Maybe it is part my personality and part of the job, but it’s hard to ever escape from it,” Gay said.
“It will be nice to think about other things and not have to worry about that,” he said.
He knows he’s leaving Coweta County in good hands. And he expects many more good things to come.
“I think we have just seen the tip of the iceberg on what Coweta County is going to become,” Gay said. “I really believe we’re going to see continued growth in the medical arena,” he said. The new hospitals plus the new college campuses, including the Coweta campus of West Georgia Technical College and planned new Newnan campus of the University of West Georgia at the old Newnan Hospital site, are “just going to set the pace for what Coweta County is going to become,” he said.
“I think it will be quality growth. And I think the future outlook of Coweta County is great.”
Will Gay ever follow in his predecessor Mutt Hunter’s footsteps and decide to run for county commission?
“That is not what I want to do. It puts you back in the public light,” Gay said. With retirement, “I’ll get to be a private person. That will be nice.”