Tommy Griffin focused on bringing changeFayetteville Online
Sunday, Sep 8, 2002
focused on bringing change
...Tommy Griffin is so absorbed in trying to become Cumberland County's next sheriff that his younger brother often finds him difficult to be around these days.
talks with families in Eastover as they head to the Eastover Community Center
for dinner. Griffin
is forever analyzing the issues and the numbers, looking for the chinks in Sheriff Moose Butler's armor.
campaign began, it has taken little prompting to get Griffin
to talk about the sheriff's budget, the new jail, the bomb squad or the school crossing guards.
Then and now, Tommy
has always been the responsible Griffin, his
brother said.Tommy Griffin
was the good athlete.The hard worker.The honor-roll student.The college graduate.The Cumberland
County clerk of court.
Growing up, the Griffins' home life forced Tommy
to become mature before his
time.Just three years older than Stan, Tommy
had to assume the role of father figure at an early age.
A week before election day, Tommy Griffin
speaks to voters in Eastover, promising to increase the number of deputies in the area without increasing the sheriff's budget.
A cornfield served as their yard, a pot-bellied stove their only source of indoor heat.They boiled water on the stove and used an outhouse for a bathroom.The two boys and their sister shared one of the two bedrooms.
...Their late father, Thomas Lawrence Griffin, joined the Army in 1929 and switched to the Air Force in 1948.Tommy Griffin
father never earned much.
was about 10 years old, his
father paid $200 for a lot in Drake Park and $400 for an old Army
mess hall that he
had moved onto the lot.The mess hall became their new home.
...At age 12, Tommy Griffin assumed the role of head of the household, working long, hard hours in a tobacco field to help make ends meet, his brother said.
"I often said that she
could snatch that prop up and hit me with it two times before the window would fall," Tommy Griffin
loved and respected his
mother and believes her
spankings helped mold him.He
thinks more parents should try it.
"I think the world would be a lot better off," Griffin
said."I knew what she
One thing she
expected was for her
eldest son to obey a 10:30 p.m. curfew.When Griffin
came in late during his
high school years, his
mother would just take one long look at her
no longer used a window prop, but her
children knew better than to disappoint her
disciplinary techniques paid off.Griffin
never missed a day in his
last eight years at the old Seventy-First School.He
sister, Nina Mae, went even longer without missing a day.Griffin said he always made the honor roll at Seventy-First and was a member of the Beta Club.He
also played basketball and was a standout on the school's baseball team.He
went on to play American Legion baseball, a first baseman on a team that was the state runner-up in 1957.
That same year, Griffin
would head off to East Carolina University
, a 17-year-old with nothing more than a few shirts and a couple of pairs of $7.88 blue jeans from JCPenney.Griffin
landlord's child to afford a place to stay.But he
felt inferior to the other students, most of whom had so much more.
"I was not a part of the in crowd at all, I think is the terminology that would be used today," he
After five quarters, Griffin
decided to pack it in and head back home.He
held several jobs in Fayetteville, including delivering newspapers, pumping gas at Hodge's Esso and working at a printing company.
By age 20, he
had also married, a union that dissolved within a year.
"It shouldn't have happened," Griffin
said."I was just trying to replace Mama, I guess.I have no idea."His
mother died in 1960 after making Griffin
would finish college.
Two years later - while Griffin
was working at the gas station to put himself through Pembroke State University - Joe Raynor
with an offer.
was a good friend of Raynor's nephews.He asked Griffin to become bookkeeper for the new clerk.Griffin
acknowledges that he
knew nothing about bookkeeping when he
accepted the job at age 22.He
got through it by trial and error and help from experienced bookkeepers.As he learned the trade at the courthouse, he continued to put himself through Pembroke State, earning a bachelor's degree in 1967.He
had also been taking courses through the Institute of Government
in Chapel Hill and had become entrenched with officials who oversaw the court system statewide.In 1968, Griffin said, they offered him a job with a fancy title, supervisor of clerks of Superior Court.
Three years earlier, the General Assembly had approved the court reform act of 1965, which would lead to the merger of all courts under one umbrella.Griffin
would take a leading role in making the merger successful.He
traveled to every courthouse in the state at least three times in those years.
The county found itself looking for a new clerk, and Griffin
fit the bill.
The state's Democratic Executive Committee nominated Griffin
to the position, and he
beat the Republican nominee in an election.It was his
only contested race in 29 years as clerk of court.
In those 29 years, Griffin oversaw a clerk system that went from pencils and ledger sheets to computers.Often, he
office to be used as a guinea pig, testing the latest advances and improvements.Griffin
proudly points out that his
office was the first to get electronic cash registers, the first to have a drive-through window, the first to process electronic law enforcement tickets.
In 1988, Franklin Freeman, then the administrator of the General Courts of Justice
in Raleigh, said Griffin
had gained the reputation as one of the top clerks in North Carolina.
has been in the forefront of all 100 clerks in making use of the newest technologies and in being the pilot county for us in Raleigh to try out some automation projects," Freeman said at the time.
Of all his
seems most pleased with the event that happened on March 12, 1982: The day the office became fully automated.His
office was a week behind Wake County in getting approval for an automated clerk's system.Griffin
made a commitment to himself to beat Wake in getting the system operating.He
made a new work schedule in which employees were set to work weekends.
never used any weekend overtime.He
didn't have to.His
office became first without it.Griffin
"I wasn't a rules person," he
said."Didn't care how you wore your hair, what color it was.I had you there to do your job, and that's what I expected you to do."
Running for sheriffGriffin
retired last year as clerk and shortly afterward announced that he
would run for sheriff.He
and Denny Davis became the Democratic challengers to Butler. Griffin
wasn't looking for a raise: the clerk's job he
left paid $113,000 a year, $6,000 more than the sheriff makes.At age 62, Griffin
could easily have spent more time enjoying one of the great loves of his
life - NASCAR - but decided he
wasn't ready to leave politics just yet.Griffin
became a NASCAR junkie about 1955, after his
uncles took him to the races at the old Champion Speedway on U.S. 301.
"I got so involved in it, it's almost like a disease," he
said.In 1985, Griffin
attended 21 races in a 28-race Winston Cup schedule.
Just before Richard Petty retired in 1992, Griffin
bought every Petty souvenir he
could find.Bottles, cards, die-cast cars.Whatever was commemorating the king.
Meet the other side of Tommy G