Canton bids farewell to town manager

By DeeAnna Haney | Jan 03, 2014

After helping to lead Canton for the past 13 years, Town Manager Al Matthews officially retired this week with intentions to take the time to simply relax for a while.

Matthews began his career in 1976 when he worked as an intern under then Canton Town Manager Bill Stamey. He then took a job as town manager in Maggie Valley in 1978.

Matthews took on the job of town clerk in 2000, working under Stamey once again. After Stamey's retirement in 2008, Matthews worked as interim town manager and 14 months later was offered the job of running the town. Stamey passed away in 2009.

Bonnie Stamey, Bill Stamey's widow, said her husband always spoke highly of Matthews.

"I think he's done an excellent job in difficult circumstances," she said, referring to his time working for the town during the floods that caused severe damage in 2004.

Over the years, he's helped the town board navigate major projects such as the large storm drain project and the Champion Drive sewer project. He was also always up to date on the latest state and municipal laws. In short, Matthews was a key player in keeping the town running smoothly.

"My husband always said he was smart," Stamey said to the crowd of people who gathered Tuesday at a retirement ceremony at the town hall.

"I hid it well," Matthews quipped, sparking laughter.

Matthews also offered plenty of friendly humor to offset all the serious work that goes along with running an entire town. Nobody knows that better than the women who worked and might even say they dealt with his antics on a daily basis. It was his unmatched dry humor and wit that made every work day a little more bearable.

In the mornings, Wanda Lurvey, the town's accounting clerk, knew that Matthews would always walk in right on time, yawn and scratch his head but say nothing until the first cup of coffee was in hand.

"Once he got his coffee and he had a sip he would start talking," she said with a laugh. "I'm really going to miss him. He's done a lot for the town of Canton."

Lisa Stinnett, assistant town clerk, has worked with Matthews during his entire tenure at the town.

"Al was a pleasure to work for because he found humor in everything," she said.

He never hesitated to offer his own nuggets of wisdom to anyone he spoke with.

Among his favorite sayings around the office were, "We doze but never close," "You must be present to win," and "You're leaving early to make up for coming in late."

Former alderman Ed Underwood recalled camping out in the yard with Matthews when they were about 12 years old and generally causing mischief in the neighborhood growing up.

"I never thought in those days that we would end up working together for the town," Underwood said.

Kenneth Holland, also a former alderman, said he was always appreciative of Matthews and longtime Town Attorney Walter Clark for always answering legal questions for the board.

"If the two of them couldn't find an answer, then it couldn't be answered," he said. "Nobody realizes how much pressure and stress is associated with that job, but he did it well."

Matthews said he has no immediate plans upon retirement but he looks forward to relaxing, spending time with family and making more trips to the lake.

On behalf of the town, Mayor Mike Ray gave Matthews a plaque and a new iPad Mini, warmly thanking him for his service over the years.

"Thank you, I'm going to need it," he said with a smile.

The new town board must take the lead on finding Matthews' replacement after the previous board failed to make a decision before taking leave in November. For now, Jason Burrell is at the helm of the town serving as interim town manager.

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