HENDERSON — When Matt Gabriel started working for the Rusk County tax office, she didn’t think she would ever enter politics.
Henderson Mayor Buzz Fullen called her “the cornerstone of relationships with the city and the county.”
“She’s always been there when we needed her,” he said. “We’ve used her for guidance in several things we have done. She’s been reliable. … She’s been a mainstay. As far as a person we could really go to, she was always there.”
The 75-year-old, who plans to retire Dec. 31, attended high school in Rusk County and then business school at Tyler Commercial College.
In 1965, she went to work for Tommy Haskins, a family friend and tax assessor-collector at the time, as a deputy clerk. She worked in the automobile and tax departments at first but ended up doing mostly automobile work.
After working for Haskins for 28 years, she took office as tax assessor-collector in 1993. She was opposed the first time she ran by another Democrat and a Republican but has since been unopposed.
“It’s been a real interesting thing down through the years to see how much change there has been,” she said.
She said those changes have greatly affected the way things operate. For instance, workers used to type the county’s tax rolls using long carriage typewriters.
The tax office also handled voter registration and sold poll tax during the 1960s. Mrs. Gabriel estimated that it once cost $1.75 to register to vote.
In the auto department, residents had to register their car annually by March, and new license plates were issued to everyone who came in each year, Mrs. Gabriel said.
She recalled that license plates were picked up in Huntsville and brought back to the tax office. She said they would likely unload two dump-truck loads to be given out all year.
The auto department was computerized in the 1990s after Mrs. Gabriel took office, and the tax department already was computerized by that time.
Mrs. Gabriel said she now supervises the office and discusses taxes with people and what they don’t understand about their bills.
She said one thing she’s done during her tenure is take on collection for every city and school district in the county, except the city of Tatum, which collects its own taxes.
Mrs. Gabriel said she’s also pleased she was able to take on the consolidation of taxes so people can pay taxes in one location instead of going to separate entities.
“I feel like that is a big accomplishment for our office,” she said, adding that the office moved to its current and bigger location in 2002.
She said the new office, which sits across from the Rusk County Courthouse, was remodeled and provides more room and a lot of storage space downstairs. That means the tax office has enough space to house the auto and tax departments in one office.
When asked why she stayed in Henderson, she cited her love for Rusk County.
She said she’s also enjoyed her work and will miss people she gets to see day to day.
“I’ve made a lot of friends since I’ve been in office. It’s been a good thing. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve done,” she said.
At this time, she doesn’t have any official plans for retirement, other than staying involved with Kiwanis Club and First Baptist Church Henderson.
She said she has enjoyed serving the public.
“That’s what you’re here for — to serve the public,” she said. “It’s been a really good thing for me, but I’m looking forward to retirement.”
Fullen said when she does leave, Mrs. Gabriel will be a hard person to follow.
“She’s an outgoing person. She goes to a lot of events. … She’s set an example for the person coming in,” he said.