The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Four decades on job register in county
By CATHY DYSON
When Bessie Ann Morefield retired the first time, she told co-workers in Spotsylvania County’s voter registration office that she’d take a break, then return and work a few days a week.
She’d been registrar for 29 years and still had 18 months left on her term. She wanted to fulfill her promise to the county.
Morefield did that—and then some.
The 83-year-old turned her 18-month obligation into an additional 15 years of service as a part-time assistant registrar. She retired the second time this week.
“I’m glad to be walking out now so that I don’t have the stress, but to step down after this long a time,” she said, tears filling her eyes, “it’s a big adjustment.”
Morefield didn’t just watch the roll of registered voters climb from 5,600 in 1968 to almost 84,000 in 2013. She led the county office through its evolution from paper ballots counted by hand to ones recorded electronically with the touch of a screen.
As she kept up with technology—including computerized systems that replaced old ledger books—she also became a walking reference about the county where she was born and raised.
“The history that she carries around in her head is phenomenal,” said Ann Kidd, an assistant registrar. “I can always go to Bessie and ask her a question about anything.”
At a recent meeting of the county’s electoral board, a question came up about a past event. When Morefield answered it, a board member joked she should remember because she’s been around since Gov. Alexander Spotswood. That’s the person the county was named after—in 1720.
“I said, ‘It’s time for me to go if you’re going to start associating me with Gov. Spotswood,’ ” Morefield said.
She doesn’t go that far back, but Morefield was appointed to the job by a man born in the early days of the 20th century.
That was the late Judge S. Bernard Coleman, a former senator and circuit court judge. Morefield had worked in his law firm, and when the county needed a registrar—after its first appointee left a few months later—Coleman suggested Morefield.
She got quite an education as the years went by. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1975, people who didn’t pay certain taxes couldn’t vote in federal elections—and that bugged those who wanted a voice in picking the next president.
Then, there were candidates for state offices who reached into their pockets—literally—to get voters.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” she said. “I saw candidates who paid people to vote for them.”
She worked with several registrars, including the current head, Kellie Acors, and through 12 presidential elections. There were problems with voter machines being set for the right Congressional district in November, and Morefield is certain changes will be made to fix them and accommodate a high voter turnout.
She also smiled a little when she said she won’t be the person handling those changes.
One of the best parts of the job was finding people to work the polls on election days, Morefield said.
More than 300 people are needed to cover the county’s 27 polling places.
Morefield kept their names and contact information on index cards in a plastic container.
“I’ve made lots of close friends,” she said. “I can name just about every one of them.”
She also knows “pretty much everybody in the county,” said Gwen Jones, a circuit court clerk who’s been her friend for 35 years.
And she always finds time to talk for a few minutes, said Charles Trigger, an election official who’s worked with Morefield since 1991.
“That’s something from our generation that’s kind of going by the wayside,” Trigger said.
“Everybody’s texting one another or talking on Facebook. Face-to-face contact is kind of going away, but not with Bessie.”
Morefield, who initially retired because her husband, Charles, was sick, said she plans to spend more time with family. She and Charles, who recently celebrated their 62nd anniversary, have four children, nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
She’s been a longtime and active member of Massaponax Baptist Church and plans to do more volunteer work.
Her co-workers aren’t surprised that she has no plans to slow down.
“She never stops,” Kidd said. “She may retire, but something else will take the place of work.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425