Saying goodbye to 92 years of clerk experience

Deputy Clerk Judy Cabaniss (left) and Clerk of Court Theresa Childress, who have 92 years of combined experience, are retiring from Roanoke County General District Court. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
Deputy Clerk Judy Cabaniss (left) and Clerk of Court Theresa Childress, who have 92 years of combined experience, are retiring from Roanoke County General District Court. Photo by Kelsey Bartlett.
On Tuesday, Roanoke County General District Court said goodbye to two employees, who combined, have 92 years of experience.

Clerk of court, Theresa Childress, along with deputy clerk, Judy Cabaniss, each have 46 years of service, and each are officially retired as of June 1. Family, friends and coworkers gathered in the court’s law library Tuesday afternoon for a celebration and emotional sendoff. The two said retiring at the same time, with the same years of experience, was coincidental.

Childress, a Salem native, attended Andrew Lewis High School. In 1970, at age 17, she applied for a position with the court after being advised to by the City of Salem treasurer.

“I had no idea what that career was going to turn out to be,” Childress said. “I loved the work and I wanted to learn all about it. I was just really intrigued with the legal system and I really strived early on to be the clerk someday.”

She was hired as a deputy clerk, and took night classes at Virginia Western, earning a degree in business administration, and completed a non-certified clerk of court program from the University of Michigan. In 1986, Childress was promoted to the position of head clerk.

She is responsible for making sure that all of the cases coming into the court system are filed correctly and that all procedures are followed. She is also the person in charge of the budget and finances, and when needed, fills in on the bench.

“You have to choose your priorities well,” she said of the balancing act. “You always have to have a plan b.”

She said a highlight in past years has been the opportunity to work with a Roanoke Valley Mental Health taskforce, something she said is an out-of-the-box role for a clerk.

“The population of people who have been diagnosed or are suffering from a mental illness, as they come before the criminal justice system, it’s a path to try to get early-on assistance for them so that they can manage the case that they may have,” Childress said. “It’s to get them back on their treatment team and their meds by identifying those issues early on.”

She is married to retired Virginia State Trooper Virgil “Bo” Childress, and the two have one daughter, two grandchildren, a great-grandson, and another due in late September.

Cabaniss, originally from the Meadows of Dan area, credits her career to her shorthand skills, something she said is now long outdated, but was essential when she was first hired. She began her career in Roanoke City, where she worked for 24 years, then worked as a circuit court secretary for four years, before transferring to Roanoke County General District Court 18 years ago.

Cabaniss met her late husband, Keith Cabaniss, who retired from the City of Roanoke Sheriff’s Office, while on the job. The two have three daughters and three granddaughters.

She said though she loved the job, it wasn’t without its difficulties. She said dealing with individuals who are at times, going through the worst moments of their lives, can be hard. She said she never knows what type of issues individuals may be going through when they step up to the window of the clerk’s office.

“Trying to help people when their matter is so urgent, and we’re just deputy clerks doing the paper work mostly, without the authority to make those decisions,” Cabaniss said, “People come out of court and they’re very upset. One of the challenging things is that you can’t make everybody happy all of the time.”

Cabaniss said she is excited to have more time for volunteer work with the Jefferson Center and the Roanoke Valley Symphony.

Carol Camacho, from San Diego, Calif., has been hired as the new clerk of court. She brings with her her 24 years of experience, and has family in the Roanoke Valley. Kristin Nevergold, from Roanoke City, will replace Cabaniss, joining the team of eight deputy clerks.

“They’ve been extremely wonderful role models, with an old-school knowledge,” said deputy clerk Cheryl Ferris. “They’ve really been an influence, personally and professionally.”

“It’s been an awesome experience and a real privilege and an honor,” added Judge Jacqueline Talevi. “They are exceptional women.”

Both Childress and Cabaniss were quick to say that the most rewarding aspect of their jobs has been working with their talented staff.

“Everybody pitches in,” Cabaniss said. “Everybody works hard and everybody helps each other.”

Cabaniss said the fast-paced environment with long periods without breaks can, at times, be a challenge, and offered a word of advice for the new hires.

“Don’t come to work hungry,” she said, laughing.

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