After a 44-year career in local government, Circuit Court Clerk Susan Tierney will retire Friday. Her career has seen the evolution of the local court system and survived a political party snub to became the first female circuit court clerk in Daviess County.
Tierney started her career in government fresh out of high school in 1974.
“I graduated on Sunday and went to work on Monday,” Tierney said.
At that time, the city and county court system was divided and Tierney worked in what she said was called quarterly court, which was the county arm of the local judicial branch. She worked there for four years while attending Owensboro Business College.
In 1978 the Owensboro-Daviess County court system unified and Tierney became a deputy clerk in traffic court, a position she held until promoted to chief deputy in 1993. As chief deputy, Tierney was over traffic, civil, probate and small claims courts.
When former circuit court clerk Pat Hardesty announced his mid-term retirement in 1999, Tierney took the qualifying exam required to run for the office. With a passing score and 25 years of experience at the time, she was appointed as circuit court clerk on May 26, 1999, by Chief Circuit Judge Garland Howard.
“I was ready to do the work,” Tierney said.
The appointment was only temporary, however. Tierney had to run for the office to fill the unexpired term in November 1999, which would allow her to finish the remainder of Hardesty’s term. To be on the ballot, candidates were nominated by the Democratic or Republican Executive Committees or ran as independent.
Tierney, a lifelong democrat, was snubbed by the Democratic Executive Committee, which opted to put a retired state trooper on the ballot instead. Presumed to be because of her gender, the decision rocked the Daviess County political arena at the time.
“I had been a democrat all my life and worked 25 years in the the clerks office,” Tierney said, of the snub.
Tierney accepted the nomination from the Republican Executive Committee and won the race with nearly 70 percent of the vote.
“I remember saying I had never been more excited, other than the birth of my children,” Tierney said. “I was humbled that the county had selected me. I still remember that night so well.”
Tierney, who joined the Republican party for good after that, had to run again in 2000, when Hardesty’s original 6-year term was set to end. But this time she was unopposed. She remained unopposed in 2006, and defeated her opponent in 2012.
Tierney admits the decision to retire after 19 years as circuit court clerk and 44 years in the clerks office was a difficult one to make.
“I wanted to leave on a high note,” Tierney said. “Even though I love my job, there are other things I need to do now.”
Judge Lisa Jones, who has worked with Tierney since 2001, believes it was Tierney’s experience that brought a sense of understanding to the office.
“As a clerk who has come through the ranks, Susan has an appreciation for her staff,” Jones said. “When her clerks can’t come to work, she fills in. She does what her clerks do and you don’t see that from other clerks across the state.”
Jennifer Hardesty-Besecker, who was elected to succeed Tierney as circuit court clerk, has worked for Tierney since she took office in 1999, but has known her all her life. Hardesty-Besecker is the daughter of former clerk Pat Hardesty and basically grew up in the clerks office.
“I have always respected Susan,” Hardesty-Besecker said. “She has done a lot for Daviess County and I know I have very big shoes to fill. I have to step up when I come in to office on Dec. 1.”
Hardesty-Besecker appreciates the eight weeks of training she has been able to receive from Tierney, who’s knowledge of the clerks office is irreplaceable according to Hardesty-Besecker.
Tierney leaves behind a legacy, for which she is proud. Going to bat for her deputy clerk’s salaries being a part of that legacy.
“Those deputy clerks hold a lot of weight at the end of their pen,” Tierney said.
She is also proud of the e-filing system that the courts are moving toward, an initiative of a statewide committee that Tierney sat on.
“When I started, we physically typed everything,” Tierney said. “Now it’s all in the computer.”
Tierney says leaving the job she has come to every day since graduating high school will be difficult. Her co-workers have become friends both in Daviess County and across the state.
“Your job kind of defines you,” Tierney said “When you retire you have to find a new you, but I’m looking forward to it.”