The city of El Dorado will bid farewell Friday to a familiar face and voice that has greeted visitors and callers to City Hall for nearly five decades.
Carolyn Waller has served six El Dorado mayors — a couple more than once — during her 50-year tenure with the city.
Waller announced her retirement several weeks ago and put in her last workday in late November.
Her retirement is effective Dec. 31, and a reception will be held in her honor at noon Friday in the lobby of City Hall.
When asked why she decided that now was the time to step down, Waller — with the same folksy timbre to her voice and easygoing laugh she used when answering the phone in the mayor’s office — said simply, “I don’t know. I just thought I was ready.”
The Norphlet native and youngest of six — three brothers and two sisters — went to work in City Hall on Jan. 15, 1968.
Waller had applied for two jobs in the area — the other was at Arkansas Power and Light, the predecessor of Entergy in Arkansas — after finishing up her studies at Ayers Career College.
She had gotten an offer to perform administrative duties in the city’s Department of Public Works.
I.L. Pesses was mayor then.
After graduating from Norphlet High School, Waller enrolled in Southern State College, now Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, but a blind date changed her course of education.
She met James V. Waller on that date.
“I went there for awhile, and I decided to get married. I thought that was more important,” she said with a laugh.
Carolyn and James married in 1966, and the year after Carolyn went to work in City Hall, she faced another change in the course of her life.
The couple had son, Todd, and Carolyn took a year off work.
“They called and wanted to know if I would come back,” she said.
Waller received a similar call after taking more time off when twins Jennifer and Julie joined the family in 1975.
William M. Rodman was mayor at the time.
When the mayor’s administrative assistant Betty Orr retired a couple of years later, Carolyn took Orr’s place under the mayoral leadership of Larry Combs.
And Carolyn remained in place with the next three mayors: Mike Dumas, Bobby Beard and Frank Hash.
Over the course of the next three-plus decades, she would reunite with Combs and Dumas.
Dumas served as El Dorado mayor from 1991 until resigning before the end of his third term in 2002.
Combs took the interim post until Beard took office in 2003.
After a stint at the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District in Magnolia, Dumas returned to lead the city once again, winning the mayoral election in 2007.
Hash succeeded Dumas in 2011.
Carolyn said she will miss the family atmosphere that City Hall has offered her for the past 50 years.
“We were long-term employees, most of us. We all got along. It’s very seldom — I don’t remember anyone not getting along,” she said.
“We’ve had quite a few characters to come through and work here over the years,” she added, chuckling at the recollection.
Sadly, Carlyn lost husband James to a heart illness in 2014. The couple had been married for 47 years.
Since her last workday just before Thanksgiving, Carolyn said she has been keeping busy with her family — which includes five grandchildren —, enjoying the holiday season as new executive secretary Laurie Tissue settles into the mayor’s office.
Carolyn lives in Three Creeks, and with daughters Julie and Jennifer close by in Haynesville, Louisiana, Carolyn said she is looking forward to spending more time with son Todd in Florida, a sister in Houston, and other family members.
Carolyn said she also anticipates visiting with her City Hall family and other guests on Friday, with one special wish.
“I’m hoping that all of the surviving mayors (Combs, Dumas, Beard and Hash) that I worked for will be there,” she said. “I’d like to get a picture with all of them.”
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at email@example.com.