OPINION COLUMNS

Renshaw made numerous contributions

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Saturday, July 7, 2018
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If the editors of the dictionary had known Sam Renshaw, his name would be the only definition you needed for integrity.

Sam, who had been Decatur’s city manager for 34 years, died Tuesday, and I lost a great friend and teacher.

Roy J. Eaton

Roy J. Eaton

I had been a reporter for 17 years when I attended my first Decatur City Council meeting on a cold day in January 1973. I just thought I knew how city government worked.

Sam, who held the title of city secretary, ran the day-to-day operations of the city. He knew that small general law cities couldn’t have a city manager, but regardless of the title, he ran things.

When the late Mayor W. B. Woodruff Jr. hired Sam in 1958, the city had eight employees and very little money. Today, Sam’s handpicked successor Brett Shannon said the city is on sound financial footing and has 110 employees.

Decatur’s sound financial status can be credited to Sam, who ran the city with a tight fist. When I was fire chief in the ’80s, I would go on bended knee to see Sam to try to get money for the cash-strapped volunteer fire department. Despite the fact that he was a retired firefighter he was not an easy sell. He thought that we should raise the money ourselves.

We would go to the First National Bank and borrow money for a new fire truck and make payments on it for a year or so, and when we went to make a payment we would discover that Sam had paid it off.

During the 30-plus years that I covered city hall, the council never had a closed-door session. I knew the subjects they were allowed to discuss behind closed doors and never put it in the paper.

I wrote lots of funny headlines about Sam, including his description of the plans for the new library as a “Taj Mahal.” After a fuss with the city’s engineering firm, the headline read “Engineers agree with Renshaw.”

Outside city hall, Sam and his wife Sis and Jeannine and I were members of Decatur’s First United Methodist Church. For several years, Sam and I would rotate as chairman of the church finance committee.

One time, when a minister and Sam disagreed about some financial issue, the preacher called Sam a “curmudgeon.” We all had to race to our dictionaries to find out what that meant. Later, Sam wore the curmudgeon badge with pride.

There was a time when a mayor, in the middle of a council meeting, told Sam he was nothing but a (expletive deleted) city clerk. Sam, who smoked a pipe at the time, said nothing. But his face started getting red from the tip of his pipe to the top of his head.

A few of us, remembering that incident, bought Sam a nameplate for his desk at the new city hall. He displayed it proudly until he retired. It read Sam W. Renshaw Jr. GDCC.

Sam always believed in the basics for the city – water, sewer, streets, police and fire. During his administration, the Wise County Water Supply District was formed to finance the building of the pipeline to Lake Bridgeport, assuring Decatur a long-term water supply that we enjoy today.

Sam was always proud of his title as city secretary. In 1975, he was named “Secretary of the Year” by the Texas Municipal Clerks Association. He later served as state president of the group. Sam invited me to speak to his Dallas/Fort Worth group, once and it was clear they held him in high regard.

After spending years in cramped quarters in the old fire station, Decatur got a first-class new city hall on Main Street in 1981. It was one of Sam’s proudest moments when Congressman Charlie Stenholm snipped the ribbon for a Sunday afternoon grand opening.

In 1984, Mayor Bobby Wilson told Sam it was time he got some help. That suggestion resulted in the hiring of Brett Shannon as assistant city secretary and city building official in 1985.

Brett, well trained in the art of penny pinching by Sam, became Decatur’s top administrator when Sam retired on May 31, 1990. Sam remained chairman of the water district board until this year.

Decatur lost a great leader and I lost a great friend on Tuesday when Sam died. I’ll miss his phone greeting calling me “Mr. Eyeton”.

Godspeed Sam, until we meet again.

Roy Eaton is the publisher of the Messenger.

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