TALLADEGA COUNTY -- Probate Judge Billy L. Atkinson, 74, has dedicated more than 40 years to helping the residents of Talladega County.
The longtime public servant will step down from his position of 18 years this November when his current term expires. By law, probate judges in Alabama must qualify as a candidate before the age of 70.
“The state has 68 probate judges, one for each county except for Jefferson, which has two,” Atkinson said. “It has been an honor to be one of them. I knew by the time I was 14 that I wanted to work in public service.”
The probate judge said he grew up a fan of former Gov. “Big Jim” Folsom’s pomp and circumstance style of campaigning.
“He would really meet with the people and would have a live band and music,” Atkinson said. “Politics begins with your next-door-neighbor.”
In 1976, the Clay County native began working for former Talladega County Probate Judge Forrest Killough in the license department and also helped handle elections.
Atkinson was elected Talladega County revenue commissioner in 1990.Ten years later, he was elected Talladega County probate judge and has held that position for three consecutive terms.
“It’s certainly not an eight-hour a job. My staff and I work around the clock helping answer questions for the people of Talladega County. We always call back,” Atkinson said.
According to Atkinson, the Probate Office’s main purpose is to help the public in a variety of ways, including elections, adoptions, administration of estates, DHR cases, guardianships, conservatorships, genealogy and more.
The probate judge offered some words of wisdom to Talladega County residents.
“It’s important that once you are over the age of 18 to strongly consider putting together a will,” Atkinson said. “It can make life for loved ones so much easier. It’s also important to keep records and to learn as much as you can about local history.”
In the future, Atkinson hopes to dedicate most of his time to his family and his church, Grace Baptist in Childersburg.
When asked what he’ll miss most, Atkinson replied, “my staff and helping others in the county. It is completely a team effort.”
Atkinson is a 1963 graduate of Southern Union College, where he majored in history. He received his secondary education degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1971.
He previously taught history and was the basketball coach at Coosa Valley Academy for several years before beginning his work for Talladega County.
He and wife Sherry have three children, Billy Jr., Brook and Beth, and three living grandchildren.
Without endorsing any particular candidate for office, Atkinson stressed the importance of caring for the people as probate judge.
“It is something you need to have a calling for. I never ran against someone for elective office, I always ran ‘for’ the office.”
BALLOT: Atkinson’s successor will come from a ballot that includes candidates Vann Caldwell, Democrat; Randy Jinks, Republican; Mark Nelson, Republican; Chuck Roberts, Republican; and Jackie Swinford, Republican.
For contested races, the primary is set for June 5. Runoffs will be July 17, if necessary. The general election will be Tuesday, Nov. 6.
For more information, go to www.talladegacountyal.org or call the probate office at 256-362-4175.