HOTSEAT- Smokin': Shelby Marshall leaves paper trail

Shelby Marshall


Shelby Marshall may be one of the most popular locals in office these days. When the Albemarle Clerk of Court announced she was not seeking reelection to the position she's held for 40 years, five people became very interested in taking over her $113,000-a-year job.

Marshall is not endorsing anyone; she hopes that whoever succeeds her gets elected "because they want to be clerk, not for the monetary value of the job," she says. 

And if $113,000 sounds like a lot, "That's 40 years later," she points our. "It was $8,000 when I started in 1967."

Marshall had been working as a clerk in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court when she ran for– and won– her first eight-year term. "That was unheard of, to run as a Republican," she says. 

She hasn't been opposed since 1983, but she doesn't take her constitutional office for granted. "When you hold a position such as this, every day you come to work you're running," she says.

The long-time clerk thinks there are a lot of misperceptions about what the job is all about: she says when people hear "clerk," they think "file."

"The clerk is the overseer and protector of records for the county," she explains. "We get hundreds of pieces of mail a day." 

Her office is a multi-million dollar business, collecting fees from every major life transaction from which state and local government can extract a cut, including marriage licenses, property transfers, and will probation. 

The clerk's office is on the front line of growth in Albemarle. Marshall's staff maintains 3,500 deed books. "There were 300-some when I started," she notes. The county collects fees for every real estate transaction filed. 

"In 2002-2003, interest rates went down and people were going crazy," she says. "There could not have been too many pieces of property not refinanced– two or three times." The office usually records about 24,000 land transactions a year and handled nearly 33,000 in one of the low-interest-rate years.

Marshall's office walls are lined with volumes of the Code of Virginia, Acts of the Assembly, and Virginia Reports. And stacks of paper stack up. "I'm a pack rat," she confesses. 

As she rifles through a pile of court dockets, she estimates she recycles one box of office paper a week– and that's not counting paper used by her deputies.  

On July 1, county records go online, a move that's controversial because of privacy issues– even though those same records are public and anyone can mosey on down to the courthouse and look them up.

"The only way people have access is through secure remote locations," says Marshall– access that costs $1,200 a year for corporate subscribers and $600 for single proprietors. 

While technology modernizes her domain, Marshall is something of an anachronism in the contemporary workplace: She can smoke– legally– in her office. "I'm probably daily more self-conscious," she admits, pointing to the air filters in her office. "My cigarettes are like Valium for other people."

Come January, Marshall will have a new life to contemplate. She wants to do volunteer work, but realizes there will be a period of adjustment.

"Forty years is a long time," she muses. "It's going to take a long time to get this out of my head. I'm 67. That's two-thirds of my life."

Despite technological advancements, Marshall's secret to keeping track of the county's records: "It's all up here," she says, tapping her temple. "How do you pass that on to someone?"

Age: 39 plus 28

Why here? Born and raised here. After school I left the area, only to return to beautiful Albemarle County after a brief stay in Northern Virginia.

What's worst about living here? Lack of long-range planning to alleviate traffic congestion in and around the city

Favorite hangout? Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Most overrated virtue? My patience

People would be surprised to know: I'm predictable and naïve.

What would you change about yourself? I would be more outspoken and try not to coat everything with honey.

Proudest accomplishment? Being the first Republican female elected in Albemarle County, and only the third female elected as president of the Virginia Court Clerk's Association

People find most annoying about you: You would have to ask "people," as I would never attempt to second-guess what people find annoying about me. But I'm sure one would be my smoking.

Whom do you admire? Ben F. Hurt, retired principal of Albemarle High School, and his fascinating ability to remember former students and their families.   

Favorite book? The book from which you find solace for any problem, the Bible

Subject that causes you to rant? Politics

Biggest 21st-century thrill? My pending retirement

Biggest 21st-century creep-out? Having grandsons on college campuses and watching the tragic events of April 16, 2007, unfold at Virginia Tech makes you realize how vulnerable your loved ones can be to violence.

What do you drive? 1995 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale

In your car CD player right now? I don't have one, but if I did it would probably be some of the Big Band hits of the '40s. 

Next journey? Herriman, Utah

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Skipping class in my senior year of high school with other seniors, going to the movies and getting caught right before I was going to All State Choir in Herndon with the Albemarle High School Chorus. Thank goodness my parents didn't find out before I left on my trip, or it would not have happened.     

Regret? Have none 

Favorite comfort food? Banana split from Dairy Queen

Always in your refrigerator? Tropicana Orange Juice

Must-see TV? 24, Criminal Minds and NASCAR races

Favorite cartoon? The Roadrunner. I love the "Beep, beep."

Describe a perfect day: Beautiful sunshiny day, temperature in mid 80s, lounging on the beach in Myrtle Beach

Walter Mitty fantasy: Having a second dinner with four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon

Who'd play you in a movie? Meredith Baxter or Sally Field

Most embarrassing moment? Once I gave the witness oath to a jury instead of the jury oath.

Best advice you ever got? From my parents, who taught me that nothing in this world is free and you get out of life what you are willing to put in, no more no less. You can be anything you want to be if you have the desire. Also the importance of the use of common sense in everyday life and any given situation.

Favorite bumper sticker? Assume Nothing