HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – This week, dozens of county employees packed the 7th floor of the courthouse for a proper send-off to retiring Madison County Commission Chairman Mike Gillespie.
There was food, cake, punch, hugs and even a couple of tears as Gillespie’s longtime secretary, Betsy Stine, said goodbye to friends and colleagues as well.
Friday marked the last regularly scheduled meeting with the current members of the commission. In less than a month, Commissioner Dale Strong will assume Gillespie’s chairman’s cap and at least two new members will be seated.
“We’re going to lose about 80 years of experience off the commission,” said Phil Vandiver, the unopposed Republican nominee for District 4, Strong’s seat.
Gillespie had some ‘color’ commentary about the last 31 years in office.
“Well, my hair color is totally different for the biggest change and then there have been a lot of great positive changes,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie has earned his gray. His first commission meeting was in January 1981. He’s been through four Huntsville mayors, countless changes and more than 30 years of service for our community.
We spoke with Gillespie during his retirement celebration as he reflected on a bittersweet day and his legacy of leadership.
“Well, we’re all emotional and if we ever let ourselves go to that point to really think about it a lot I’ll never get through the day,” said Gillespie. “I’m just grateful that the community has given me this opportunity and I’ve tried to serve with dignity and honor and it’s just such a great community to represent and it’s nice to have this day.”
As Gillespie says goodbye, Dale Strong is poised to become the first new chairman in a generation. Strong, a Republican, is running unopposed on the November 6 ballot.
“I’m excited about the new ideas that will be coming to the commission, look forward to working with these new commissioners,” Strong said.
Jerry Craig is also stepping down as District 3 Commissioner. He says some major quality time with the grandchildren is in order for him.
As for Gillespie?
“Well, I don’t know exactly what’s next but I’ve still got a job,” Gillespie said. “I don’t go out until the middle of November and there are a lot of things to finish up and I’m working with Dale Strong who’s coming in and this transition could not go smoother.”
It’s the end of an era, but the beginning of an exciting new one as well.
In the short term, Gillespie will serve as the assistant basketball coach at Huntsville Middle School. He says he also plans to do some substitute teaching.
The new Madison County commissioners will officially be seated November 14th.
Most races are unopposed for the commission, but two include a Republican and Democrat. Here is the list of who’s running:
Dale Strong (R)
Roger Jones (D)
Tim McNeese (R)
Steve Haraway (R)
Jeff Cooper (D)
Eddie Sisk (R)
Phil Vandiver (R)
Phil Riddick (R)
Bob Harrison (D)