Trailblazing court clerk retires

Published 9:58 pm Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Friends and family gathered on Tuesday to honor a beloved court employee in a heartwarming ceremony.

General District Court Clerk Brenda Brown was honored during a retirement ceremony at the Mills E. Godwin Jr. courts building.

Brown was the first African-American to be hired by the court back in 1977, and she became the first to be promoted to clerk in 1997.

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“I’m honored to be the first African-American clerk, and that I’ve made ways for other African-American employees to be hired in the General District Court,” Brown said.

More than 50 friends and family members gathered in a courtroom presided over by Judge Alfred Bates. Speeches were given and awards were presented to commemorate Brown’s 40-year career.

“My mission was to make Suffolk General District court the best-run court in the state of Virginia, and I feel I accomplished that,” Brown said.

Chesapeake General District Court Clerk Barbara Shaw evaluated the Suffolk District Court in her former position with the Supreme Court of Virginia. She agreed with Brown’s assessment.

“This is one of the best-run courts in the commonwealth,” Shaw said. “Brenda has done an outstanding job.”

Brown said she had worked hard to make her court run as smoothly as possible. Deputy Clerk Shirley Shivers said Brown established an order in the court with rules, guidelines and policies that allowed it to run smoothly.

“She made history,” Shivers said. “I’m gonna miss her.”

Deborah Gardner will assume Brown’s position as clerk, and she said Brown’s are going to be big shoes to fill.

“She’s a hard worker, and she ran the office smoothly,” Gardner said. “I’ve been with her for 25 years. She’s my second mother.”

Sheriff E.C. Harris described Brown as a “trailblazer” with “tremendous intestinal fortitude.”

“I think she was not just a mentor but a teacher,” he said.

Part of Brown’s success came from showing respect and empathy to all kinds of people.

“I worked with her for 17 years,” Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Susan Walton said. “She treats everybody the same, whether you’re a judge, deputy, lawyer or citizen — and that’s with class. She treats everyone with the same level of respect.”

Brown thanked her friends and family for the kinds words and gratitude. She also thanked her mother, Evelyn Copeland, for all her support and advice, especially when she first started her career.

“I encouraged her to go further,” Copeland said. “I’m proud of the fact that she listened to her mom, took my advice, and stayed not just for one year, but 40. I’m very proud of her”

Brown’s said she’s enjoyed her career, but now she’s ready to travel, relax, and enjoy her grandkids.

“My dockets will become my downtime, justice will become jubilance and my cases will become couches,” she said.