Inside the Smith County Courthouse’s central jury room, the friendly voice of Monica Ballinger greets prospective jurors.
“Good morning. How are you?” she says as people file by checking in or receiving paperwork.
Every once in a while she sees someone she knows in the crowd and calls out to them, waving and laughing.
The joy in her voice stands out, as most people walking into the room are subdued at best, grumpy at worst.
For Mrs. Ballinger, though, every day is a good day when you are alive.
“God woke you up, period,” she said. “I mean you don’t have to say anything else. Some people don’t even wake up. Some people don’t even have a job to come to. So my thing is, if I have to be here, might as well have a good attitude.”
Mrs. Ballinger, 45, of Tyler, works as a bookkeeper for the Smith County District Clerk’s Office, a position she’s held for 10 years.
Although most of her time is spent sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer screen balancing accounts, she’s managed to positively affect her coworkers and, when she goes downstairs, the prospective jurors throughout her time on the job.
“A positive force,” jury coordinator Lisa Bennett said of how she would describe Mrs. Ballinger. “She’s got a very positive outlook, very positive attitude. … People will be negative and blas￩, and she will turn that around. She doesn’t usually have a problem making a person smile.”
Monday through Wednesday of each week, Mrs. Ballinger spends part of her morning downstairs in the jury room, checking in people who are “resets,” those who changed their jury duty date. She also sometimes pays the jurors.
“A lot of times if someone is there that she knows, she will call them out, and if it’s a birthday, she’ll sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them,” Ms. Bennett said. “And if it’s somebody that she knows has something going on … she’ll make (them) laugh or point them out to the other people in the courtroom.”
Because many people don’t want to be at jury duty, it’s nice to have a positive person interact with them because it can help set a positive tone, Ms. Bennett said.
Born in Tyler and raised in Mineola, Mrs. Ballinger grew up in a strong faith-filled home. She remembers the many times her grandparents, Cleo and Steve Caddell Sr., prayed with oil over her, her sister and cousins and believes those prayers have had a profound effect on all of their lives.
After graduating high school, Mrs. Ballinger attended Tyler Junior College where she studied for a career in fashion merchandising.
Upon earning her associate’s from there, she began attending a fashion college in Dallas, but when she realized she was learning the same things she already studied at TJC and for a lot higher price, she decided to come back home.
So, she did and for the next few decades, she worked at a variety of jobs, learning from each of them.
Her bosses at her first job at Dairy Queen in college taught her to make eye contact with people when talking to them. They called her “teeth” because she smiled so much, she said.
At Wal-Mart, she worked as a customer service manager and cashier, and at Harrah’s Casino in Shreveport she worked with the money.
It was 1996 when she came to the Smith County District Clerk’s office after some time at Brookshire’s. She spent four years there, going back to Brookshire’s in 2000, then returning to the county in 2003, where she began as a bookkeeper.
When a friend told her about the opening, she said it was a testing of her faith to apply because math isn’t really her strong point. But she was hired and has been there ever since.
Her responsibilities include balancing all the money that comes in for divorces, juvenile and criminal payments and more.
Apart from the time in the jury room, she spends most of her time at her desk. But she has a lot of inspiration around her. Photos of family and friends, Bible verses, inspiration sayings, figurines and more fill the walls and shelves of her cubicle.
When she wants to focus on her work, she puts on headphones and listens to gospel music.
“The words can get you through a lot,” she said.
When she’s having a rough day or dealing with a difficult person in the jury room, she said she prays and relies on God’s strength to help her through.
Apart from her work, she spends time serving at her church, New Zion Baptist Church in Winona, where she sings in the choir, and at home, where she is wife to Ren Ballinger, 44, a Smith County detective, and mother to Johnythan, 7, and her bonus son, R.J., 14.
Mrs. Ballinger said God’s faithfulness is the source of her joy and gives her the strength for each day.
“Because it goes back to again, he woke me up,” she said. “He woke me up and he gives me chance after chance even though I may fail him. He gives me chance after chance so all I can do is work to be the best person that I can be.”
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