My son Andy sent me a text Thursday morning “Getting car tags in Marshall County will never be the same.”
He had just received the word of Barbara Gilliam’s passing.
He got his first University of Southern Mississippi tag a few years back from Barbara, a 24-year employee of the tax collector’s office.
“I remember flipping through the book together trying to find it,” Andy said.
When it came to that office, and no offense to all the other good folks who work there, Barbara took care of the Burlesons.
If I called, I asked for Barbara.
If I walked in the front door, I went to Barbara. If I didn’t see her immediately, I waited.
Each year when I got those dreaded property tax bills in the mail for The South Reporter, I knew it would not be long before I’d be contacting her and saying, “I’m on my way. Can you help me?”
The answer was always — “Yes. Come on.”
She knew my routine — pay a portion and then make a few more payments all along.
She made it easy and she always did so with kindness.
She’d write down for me the amount I’d paid, what I still owed and my deadline for paying the remainder.
She knew I’d be back before the deadline, and she knew I’d be asking for her no one else.
And we always had a conversation about our families.
“How is Emma?” she’d ask.
Then, “How is Andy?
Those are my two oldest children, and they were in school with some of her grandchildren. And Barbara was always there to support her grandchildren and the other young people in their school activities.
She kept up with Erin, my youngest, too.
“And how’s Erin?”
The last time I visited with her at the tax office, she was asking about Erin’s college plans. She wasn’t surprised to learn Erin was following the path of her two older siblings and going to USM.
“She will do well, just like the other two,” she told me. “I know you are proud of them.”
And I always got the welcomed update on her grandchildren — Jeremy, Chelsey, Brittney, Heather and John. Her love for family was the deepest love possible.
I’ve seen lots of comments about Barbara on social media since her death.
Here’s a few descriptions:
“A wonderful person.”
“Definitely a gem.”
“Kind heart and spirit.”
And of course, that list of good qualities could go on and on and on.
I totally agree with my son Andy. It just won’t be the same walking into the Marshall County tax collector’s office.
Barbara will be missed — by her wonderful family, most of all, and then of course her work family, but by tons of others in Marshall County, too.
Barbara’s boss, tax collector Betty Byrd, wrote about her good friend: “No telling how many thousands of taxpayers she assisted through the years. She always went above and beyond every day to serve this county. Marshall County has lost the best.”