Local News

August 23, 2012

One retiring, one promoted, one welcomed at probate court

A nearly 20-year veteran of the Whitfield County Probate Court will be saying goodbye to her co-workers at the end of this month, triggering a series of other changes at the courthouse.

Linda White, who started working in the traffic division of the Probate Court in 1993, has served as chief clerk for the past 17 years but announced recently that she will be retiring effective Aug. 31.

Another veteran of the Probate Court office, Samantha Splawn, will be moving into White’s position effective Sept. 3, and Splawn’s former position of administrative tech senior will then be filled by newcomer Dennielle Ruiz.

“I’ve had some great times and met some wonderful people,” said White, whose husband John is also retiring on Friday after several years with The Dixie Group, most recently in Eton.

White says she hopes to have time for painting and writing poetry. “I haven’t painted in a long time,” she said. “I used to paint landscapes and animals. I may try portraits now.”

Her son, Scott, is a police officer and firefighter on Lookout Mountain and lives in Cartersville with his wife, Christy.

“I’ve got friends I want to visit, too,” she said. “I have talked to some that said, ‘Oh, you call me the minute where you can, and we’re gonna go to those yard sales.’ I’m thinking, yeah, I guess that’d be fun. We’ll try it.”

White said she has really enjoyed working in the Probate Court. “The people have been good to me,” she said. “I’m proud of the job I’ve done. Hopefully, above all else, I have left a legacy of love and concern for others. I know I have certainly been blessed.”

She says she is glad to be leaving her post in the hands of a well-qualified replacement. “Samantha’s really been an amazing young lady,” White said. “I think she’s going to be outstanding in this position. She’s very intelligent, very bright, and I think she’s going to do a marvelous job.”

Splawn  has worked for the past 10 years in the Probate Court office and recently completed 90 hours of training in the Probate Court Clerks Certificate Program, offered since 2006 through the Institute of Continuing Judicial Education.

“Clerks training keeps the clerks informed each year of the changes in the law and helps us update our office procedures for what we actually handle in our office — estates, wills, weapons permits, marriage licenses, traffic,” Splawn said. “It’s not just a certificate program, it is intended to encourage clerks to continue their education through the University of Georgia.”

Splawn says the favorite part of her job has been helping people. “It’s a very sad job most of the time,” she said, “and can be emotionally draining. They’ve either lost a loved one or a family member is in need of a guardian and they’re going through some real tough situations. Families may be fighting over mom’s personal items or property left in her estate. So typically we get a lot of people that are upset, crying or mad, and it’s rewarding to kind of defuse those situations. We help people by finding resolutions or comforting them during their time of loss. That’s really the best part about the job is just being able to help people, or at least feel like you’re kind of making a difference in someone’s life.”

When most people visit the office, they don’t always know about the procedures to be followed by law. “It feels good to be able to say, ‘OK, this is what you need, just take a deep breath, this is what we’re going to do, and just take it one step at a time,’” Splawn said.

Helping others comes as second nature for Splawn, who just helped raise nearly $1,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association through the lock-up fundraiser. She has also participated in many other local fundraisers and volunteers for the Whitfield County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program.

Besides her new job, she’ll also take on another challenge in September when she becomes one of the few females to take volunteer firefighter training. In fact, once she’s done, she’ll apparently be the county’s only active female firefighter (though a former schoolmate of hers, Katelyn Farmer, is currently a firefighter for Dalton).

“I have always wanted to be a part of the fire department even as a small child,” she said. “Growing up, either a doctor or a fireman was typically the two things I would choose as an occupation.”

She’s actually already been on some calls with her husband, Joey, who has been a volunteer with Station 9 for six years “and has kind of been holding my hand the last four months and teaching me things as we go along,” she said.

“I know it throws a kink in there sometimes for a female to be a volunteer, but the other firefighters have been very receptive. I feel very honored that they have accepted me into their department. I haven’t had any fires since I’ve been in, but we’ve had several medical calls and a couple of car accidents. It’s great to be able to go out and feel like you’ve made a difference on the front end instead of waiting till someone passes away. With the fire department, I feel  like I can help the victim and not just the victim’s family.”

She and her husband have two children, Taylor, 12, and Avery, 6, and also have custody of Samantha’s half-sister, Elizabeth Pack, 15.

Splawn’s replacement, Dennielle Ruiz, has been training for the position. She worked at Dalton State College and another university dealing with financial aid before coming to work at the courthouse. Ruiz is a 2008 graduate of Northwest Whitfield High School and is a criminal justice major at Dalton State. She is the daughter of Miguel and Anita Ruiz of Dalton.

Probate Court Judge Sheri Blevins praised all three women.

“I appreciate the good service Linda has given to our office for all these years,” Blevins said. “I worked with Linda as chief clerk when I was an attorney filing petitions in Probate Court and have enjoyed working with her as the ‘new’ judge.”

“I am looking forward to Samantha working in more of a supervisory capacity than in the past,” the judge continued. “I have every confidence that she will rise to the many demands of the chief clerk’s position.

“And I am excited to get the opportunity to train a new employee in the Probate Court. It has been four years since we have hired a new employee, and I look forward to teaching Dennielle about the court process, how to look up the law and how we handle probate matters.”

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