Betty Darnell has lost track of how many times she accompanied her husband Bill to Mississippi Municipal League conferences, meetings and workshops.
“Goodness, I have no idea,” she said, noting her husband’s 42 years as a Caledonia alderman. “He’s been there forever, and I went with him.”
While many spouses spent those trips lounging on the beach, shopping, sightseeing or simply relaxing, Betty usually tagged along with her husband to the classes and workshop sessions.
“I thought I might as well be learning something,” she said. “They have classes on just about everything you can imagine, what people in these offices really need to know. Bill and I used to laugh about him having hundreds of hours of classes. Well, I had those hours, too. They just weren’t on paper.”
Beginning July 1, Betty Darnell will finally get a chance to put all that training to use.
Tuesday, Darnell defeated alderman Quinn Parham in the Caledonia mayor’s race. Darnell collected 161 votes (53 percent of the 303 votes cast) to Parham’s 137 — a big win by Caledonia standards where races are often decided by the slightest of margins, as in 2017 when Mitch Wiggins defeated former mayor Bill Lawrence by a single vote.
“I was as surprised as anybody,” she said. “I always thought it would be an uphill battle. I’d never run for office before, while Mr. Parham has been an alderman for a while now.”
Over the years, as she discovered she was becoming more and more fascinated with the ins and outs of local government, she thought she might someday like to run for office.
There was one big obstacle, though.
“As long as Bill was on the board I knew I wasn’t eligible,” she said. “I really didn’t think about it until Bill started thinking about stepping down. In November and December, we started talking about this being his last term. Once he made that decision, I started thinking about (running). We talked about it a lot, and I prayed about it a lot, too.”
During her campaign, Betty, who retired after 28 years as credit manager at Sanderson Plumbing, emphasized that she had the intention — and inclination — to be a full-time mayor in a town where Town Hall closes at 11 a.m. each day.
“Since I’m retired, I can devote my full time and attention to being mayor,” she said. “I’ll keep set hours, but I’ll also be available any time. When someone visits and wants to look at a property, when a business comes to town looking for a place and has questions, I’ll be available to meet with them.”
Along with Betty, three of the five new aldermen — Robert Linn Jacobs, Jason Chrest and Amanda Boltwood — will be serving their first term. Between losing Bill Darnell and Parham, who have a combined 54 years as aldermen, and Wiggins’ loss in Tuesday’s alderman race (he served one term as mayor and another as aldermen), the government sworn in on July 1 will be the least experienced in memory.
Tammy McCool, whose 232 votes were the most collected by any candidate in Tuesday’s race, and Matt Furnari will begin their second terms as the only elected officials with any experience in elected office.
“I remember what it was like when I first came onto the board four years ago,” McCool said. “There’s a lot to learn, but I know Matt and I are both going to be happy to help them get their feet on the ground. It’s a good group, so I’m not worried about that at all.”
“I think, like me, everybody on the board loves Caledonia and wants our town to thrive,” Betty Darnell said. “All of them have been very involved in the community whether it is with our annual events or the park or other things in town. It’s a small town. We all know each other. I think it’s going to work out just fine.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]