Judy Toney just beats all.
No, no, don't get cranky. She is not the last word, or the big Kahuna, or the hottest dog on the block.
In the Sacred Southland when we say, "You beat all," we are giving up any other way to describe you, to pay you a compliment, to say nice things about you. It does not mean you are the best. It means we are at a loss for anything else to say.
"Rutherford County is a great village in which to raise children," she said reflecting on her three grown children and now grandchildren. "And to have now adult children as friends is the best of all."
When Rutherford County native David Toney moved his bride here in 1972, she found our "Small town friendly," county to be the best gift he could have given her.
The amazing storyteller and big-hearted Toney who would eventually run our sheltered workshop was forged in the heat of caring for a younger brother who had severe limitations.
His name was David, too.
Her first job in a workshop was in Albemarle where she spent her high school years.
She became emotional as she said, "I didn't know if I could stand it. Would it be too much like caring for my brother? Could I take it? But I realized this was for David. He never chewed gum, never kissed a girl, never drove a car. I was doing all this for David. After I got over the initial fright, I became ingratiated to the protocols."
Her husband came here to work in vocational rehabilitation. She heard about a job at the Spindale workshop. It was caring for her brother all over again; and she took to it like a duck to water. Buddy Hewitt hired her.
"I've loved every job I had. My dad told me, 'Sister.' I was not his sister, but he always called me that when he wanted to get my attention. He said, 'Sister, you better get a job that involves talking or you're gonna get fired from a lot of jobs.' They have all involved talking," she said.
The woman can talk.
After 22 years at the workshop, she heard the county was looking for a human resources, personnel director. John Condrey was county manager.
"I had worked with him on a number of projects. I knew his character, his work ethic, his integrity and his love for Rutherford County. It was time, so I applied for the job. I felt like I had done a poor interview and I thought about withdrawing my application, but they hired me," she said.
What was a key to hiring for the county?
"I would say to them, 'You are applying for a very important job to Rutherford County. How do you feel about that responsibility?' And then I would watch their faces as they answered that question. It told a whole lot."
She has been an active member of the Foothills Pilot Club, a club that also reaches out to the community of persons with severe challenges. She now serves as regent of the local chapter of the Daughters Of The American Revolution. What's the burn with the DAR?
"History. I loved history as a student. Taught history in high school and middle school in Albemarle. Being a middle school teacher taught me a lot about how to be a teacher. My favorite books to read are history books. It's a great organization with lots of wonderful people," she said.
At a DAR meeting last year, Toney remembered grade school teacher Mary Elliott, another example of greatness in "Small town friendly," Rutherford County.
"I got a call that I needed to come to my daughter's school and bring a fresh pair of blue jeans. I had told her that I would gladly wash her clothes but she needed to be responsible for putting them in the drier. Instead she went to school with wet jeans. Mary asked her what was wrong; and she told her that her mother wouldn't dry her jeans. Mary sent the jeans down to the cafeteria and asked the staff to put them in the oven to dry. They caught fire, so I had to bring fresh jeans." The story was met with peels of laughter.
Judy Toney loves to make people laugh; and does a right smart of it herself.
"It's better than crying," she said. Some might say she has had a few things to cry over.
She has had two heart attacks, a stroke which has hobbled her right arm and hand a little, cancer, a brain aneurysm, and once broke her leg in five places.
"Thank God for health insurance. I have gladly paid those premiums," she said. The long-time member of Forest City's First United Methodist Church says her faith in God has meant everything to her. "I have had lots and lots of ups, but the few times I have had downs, my faith in God has gotten me through."
She and husband, David, met at the Methodist Mecca, Lake Junaluska in high school, but that didn't go so well. She had always wanted blonde hair (who doesn't?) and peroxided her bangs. David's father told him it's okay to date a woman using hair color, but don't bring one home to Mama. David didn't vote for her when she ran for a district office.
They met again at a community swimming hole and patched things up. By her sophomore year at Coker College, the form was set. They never looked back. Her mother sent her to all-girls Coker, because, "Growing up with four brothers, she thought I needed to learn how to be a girl."
Of her marriage to David Toney, she said, "We knew we were meant for each other," she said. "It hasn't been a bed of roses, but he's been wonderful now for 52 years."
And then there's that laughter.
"Our driveway is hundreds of feet long. We bought the driveway and they threw in the house," she said.
Honored by the Forest City Kiwanis Club as its Citizen of The Year in 1982, she has also served on the board of The Church of The Exceptional in Henrietta. The Kiwanis Club never seeks to honor just one year of citizenship, but often highlights a lifetime of service. In Toney's case, they were spot on. Still serving now in "retirement," she models the best in what it means to live in Rutherford County.