When Mary Lou Daugherty first started working at the Summit County Clerk of Courts Office, she was 18.
Her father had just died and Daugherty, the oldest of five children, needed a job to help support her family.
Daugherty planned to attend the University of Akron, but that never happened. Instead, she stayed at the clerk’s office for the next 43 years, the past 24 as the No. 2 person in the office.
Daugherty, now 61, worked her final day in the clerk’s office Thursday and begins her retirement Friday. Her colleagues say Daugherty has been essential to modernizing the clerk’s office and helping with everything the office does.
In 2015, the clerk’s office handled about 25,000 filings
“She knows everything inside and out,” said Clerk of Courts Sandra Kurt, who was appointed after Dan Horrigan became mayor this year.
Daugherty started her clerk career in the title division, which handles auto titles and passports. After that, she worked in the juvenile division, as a criminal division supervisor and was tapped as chief deputy in 1992, a position later renamed chief of staff. She served twice as the interim clerk but never wanted to be clerk herself.
“I’m a behind-the-scenes person,” Daugherty said during a recent interview.
Many things have changed during Daugherty’s time in the clerk’s office, including the shift to online filing, but Daugherty said the purpose of the job remains the same: to provide customer service, often at a time when people are under stress because of having little or no experience dealing with the court system.
Sometimes, Daugherty said, the stress is too much and customers lash out, with the clerks on the receiving end. She recalled once when a young woman at the counter reached in her purse, pulled out a can of pepper spray and sprayed a deputy clerk in the face.
Another time, Daugherty was waiting for the elevator when a woman unhappy with what a clerk had told her took a swing at her.
“Thank God I could duck,” Daugherty said, shaking her head. “I never knew why she was so angry.”
Daugherty said the vast majority of clerk’s office visitors are nice. But nonetheless she was pleased when security at the courthouse was boosted, with visitors required to go through metal detectors staffed by sheriff’s deputies.
Horrigan, who was clerk for nine years, said Daugherty’s calm demeanor served her well.
“I know when she’s nervous and when I need to be nervous,” he said. “She was very good at getting people to see the realities of a situation. The courthouse is a process. It starts in the clerk’s office.”
The biggest change Daugherty has seen in her tenure is the conversion from a paper-based to mostly web-based system.
When she first started, she said, clerks wrote court orders in docket books. She has helped lead the way toward the clerk’s office being mostly online, with e-filing for the criminal division being the final hurdle. That step is expected by August.
Kurt said Daugherty stumbled into the IT world, but ended up enjoying it and finding it challenging.
“I just really admire her commitment,” Kurt said. “Just to be able to adapt to so many changes says a lot.”
Even with the conversion to online, the clerk’s office stays busy, Daugherty said, with people paying court costs, posting bonds and still filing and examining paper documents. The office handles filings for Summit County Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations Court and the 9th District Court of Appeals and has eight title bureaus throughout the county.
Daugherty said she and many of her colleagues have stayed in the job for so long because they don’t do the same thing every day. One co-worker, Cathy Duhon, soon will retire after 32 years. She and Daugherty together have 75 years of experience.
Still, Daugherty said she thought it was time to retire and allow others to step up to the plate. Scott Feeney, who has been with the clerk’s office for a mere 20 years, is the new chief of staff.
Feeney said Daugherty will be missed.
“Mary Lou created a family atmosphere for employees and a professional atmosphere for customers and anyone that has ever been a manager knows that is a very difficult balance to keep,” Feeney said. “To me, that explains everything you need to know about what kind of person and employee she was.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.