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VOL. 127 | NO. 28 | Friday, February 10, 2012

Hard Work at Heart Of Boyd’s Public Service

By Bill Dries

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Editor’s Note: This is a Daily News series featuring past winners of the Bobby Dunavant Public Service Awards, which annually honor one elected and one non-elected government official. The 2012 awards will be presented Feb. 22.


Bill Boyd was no stranger to City Hall when he was elected to the Memphis City Council in 2007.

Boyd supervised the move of Memphis city government into the new City Hall in 1966.

“We moved into City Hall in two weekends in 1966, one in March and one in April,” he said. “We moved from nine different locations. They were spread all over Downtown. The biggest part was at the (Shelby County) Courthouse.”

Boyd got the job from his boss, then-city commissioner Hunter Lane. It was one of several stops in city and county government for Boyd, who has also served as Shelby County assessor of property and a city division director in a government career that began in 1959.

Boyd is a past winner of the Bobby Dunavant Public Service Award that honors one elected official and one non-elected official each year.

This is the latest in a series of articles about past winners of the award, which will be given Feb. 22 by the Rotary Club of Memphis East and the Dunavant family at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis. The Daily News and the University of Memphis are sponsors of the awards named for the late Probate Court clerk.

Boyd grew up with, went to school with and played high school sports with Dunavant in South Memphis and the two went to work in local government in the late 1950s as clerks.

“Work meant a lot. We had to work hard for everything we got along the way,” said Boyd who began his second term on the City Council in January.

Boyd was a student at the University of Memphis and working at Mid-South Title Co. when a friend in the assessor’s office told him of an opening there.

“I took two civil service tests. One was a general clerical test and the second was deputy abstract and title examiner. All it was was a clerk,” Boyd said. “I posted deeds and I laid out subdivisions. I became a certified cadastral mapper many years later. I took drawing in high school. I used it.”

After he scored well on both tests, Boyd went in to see the assessor and the job interview was short.

“He said, ‘Write your name down here and your address,’” Boyd said. “He saw I had nice handwriting. … He said, ‘You’re hired.’”

Boyd quickly learned the ways of politics in a city where at the time the lines between politics and government were often blurred. Boyd was asked to grab a box of papers and take it to one of his bosses. When a newspaper reporter confronted him, he learned that he had unwittingly delivered a stack of campaign flyers to the official who was campaigning in the courthouse on county time.

It was a painful lesson that he still remembers.

Boyd and Dunavant were part of a movement within the Memphis Jaycees, a junior chamber of commerce that was a stepping stone for many politically minded men in the post-World War II generation to elected or appointed office.

They and others reacted in the 1970s to what they saw as an overemphasis on political movement and turned the organization back toward its original goal of being a service organization.

Boyd said people have attempted to bribe him three times – all during the time he worked in the assessor’s office. Each time he said he turned them down.

“He offered me whiskey and women and a cabin in Mississippi,” Boyd said of one attempt. Another was after Boyd had done his job and directed a friend to the same person in the assessor’s office that any citizen would be directed to.

“We had lunch and went out to the car and in between the two seats he pulled out this envelope just like you see in the movies,” Boyd recalled. “It was a lot of money, whatever it was.”

During 50 years in local government, Boyd has seen others who entered government service for the wrong reasons and others who started with the right motivation but lost their way.

“I don’t know what gets into people where they think they can do those kinds of things. It’s not worth the chance,” he said. “It’s something they don’t really need. They don’t need it. They think they need it.”

On the wall of his council office, Boyd has the certificates of election for the elected positions he has won and somewhere he has a “little bitty” loving cup he got for the great City Hall move of 1966.

“I laid down all of these partitions right here – Virginia Metal Products, that’s where we bought them,” Boyd said patting a wall of his small council office. “It was two-and-a-half times the cost of what it would be to do permanent partitions. But we knew it would move around.”

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