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February 14, 2013

Betty Brewer, first woman probate judge in Cullman County, dies

CULLMAN — Betty Brewer’s career in the Cullman County probate judge’s office spanned three decades — nearly half her adult life. She served as chief clerk for almost the entirety of four-term probate judge Tom Burleson’s career, before herself being elected as his successor in 2000. She was Cullman County’s first female probate judge.

Brewer passed away in Cullman late Wednesday. She was 74.

Beloved for her gentle demeanor, as well as for the personal attention she devoted to the people who came in contact with the probate office, Brewer got her start as a probate employee when Burleson hired her in 1977, at the beginning of his first elected term.

“I hired her when I first got into office. I had gotten to know her mother — who was really active in politics — and she introduced me to Betty,” said Burleson Thursday. “She [Betty] was running a beauty shop when I hired her, and she just stepped right in. She was a very good worker and about as honest and truthful a person as there is.”

Brewer spent about a year as a probate employee before Burleson promoted her to chief clerk, where she remained until Burleson, a Democrat, decided not to seek a fifth term.

Brewer sought the office as a Democrat, becoming the first woman to hold the probate judge’s seat in Cullman County. Although urged to run for a second term in 2005, she declined, citing health concerns.

“When it came election time, she constantly was having people wanting her to run again; begging her to please run,” said daughter Rhonda Harris. “And she said, ‘You know, I just really don’t feel like it. I don’t know if I can.’ That was her character, because if she could not have served the people at her full capacity, she would have felt like she was letting the people down. And it was a year and three months from the day she retired when she had her first stroke.”

Those who remember Brewer feel she set an example for how to get along with others — an example they believe retains more value now than ever before, amid today’s climate of sometimes-nasty local politics.

“She was good to people,” said Burleson. “She liked to help people. I never did hear her badmouthing others, or saying anything negative about anybody. It didn’t matter what their background was in politics.”

“That was Mama,” said Harris. “I grew up watching her, and watching Mr. Burleson, and you couldn’t find anything wrong with the way they did things or the way they treated people. What the public saw was just exactly the way she lived here at home: she treated people as a Christian; she worked hard and she followed the rules.

“Of course, she taught me those things; she told me those things — but it was more than just talk. Mama really lived it. A lot of political people, that’s not the case — they’re different away from the limelight or to each other. But she treated everyone, including her family, with the same sweet spirit.”

Born and raised near Good Hope, Brewer worked for Kessler’s beauty shop before opening The Vogue, her own beauty salon, in Cullman. She worked as a stylist, both at her own shop and — after Rhonda was born — from home for 23 years before joining Burleson’s staff in the probate office.

She suffered a series of strokes after she stepped away from the office in 2006. Harris said she was grateful for the treatment Brewer had received from the home health care workers who assisted her during the final two and-a-half years of her life.

“It’s unreal how good they have been,” she said. “They treat their patient just exactly like they’re their own child; they’re very protective and very attentive. I can’t say enough good things about them, or the care that Mama received.”

Brewer is survived by her husband, Orin Clay “O.C.” Brewer, one daughter, a sister, two grandchildren and two step-grandchildren. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Daystar Church. Moss Service Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

See complete information on funeral arrangements in today’s obituary section.

* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at bbullard@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.

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