A packed house gave two standing ovations to honorees at this week’s Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting.
The celebrities drawing such response weren’t singers or dancers or the typical entertainment types that everyone loves to love. Nope, the first standing O went to University of Texas at Arlington president James Spaniolo, who announced his retirement earlier this year. (He plans to stick around until his successor is named.) Since taking office in 2004, the prez has helped build UT-Arlington’s reputation as a major research university while increasing and diversifying the student body. “It’s great to be a Texan,” he said. Duh.
Applause for Spaniolo was enthusiastic, but it was a mere sigh into the wind compared to the long and loving reaction given to Judge Billy Mills of County Criminal Court 3. The 81-year-old jurist has wielded a gavel for 36 years, making him the state’s longest-sitting judge. Prior to that, he worked as prosecutor under former D.A. Tim Curry. Mills could have retired from the county years ago, drawn a nice pension, and boosted his income greatly by working as a visiting judge across the state.
“This man has given up a lot of dollars by staying with the county … and that just shows you the passion for public service that this man has,” County Judge B. Glen Whitley said. (Most of Static’s friends would retire tomorrow if they were old enough and had more than $20 in the bank.)
Mills attended Paschal High School and Arlington State College (later to become UT-Arlington), served in the Air Force, and then graduated from SMU law school.
A county employee can retire when his age plus years of service equals 75. Mills is 81. He has 46 years of county service. So, 81 plus 46 equals 127. Subtract the county’s magic number of 75, and that leaves 52. Subtract that from 81, and … Mills could have retired at age 29, meaning he could have retired from the county before he actually began working here.
Okay, Static’s math is flawed. Suffice it to say that Mills is devoted to Tarrant County’s criminal court.
“I just love the job,” he said. “I thought about retiring and coming up with something else to do, but I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do. Every morning when I wake up, I look forward to coming to work, and that’s the reason I’m still here.”
Mills mentioned that he graduated from law school in 1964 at age 32.
“Hey, that was the year the Beatles first toured America — did you go and see them?” Static asked.
“No, I never did see them, but I liked to listen to them,” Mills said.
Static, whose musical recall is better than its math skills, spent the rest of the morning thinking of Beatles songs that would appeal to a hardworking old judge: “Eight Days A Week,” “Baby’s In Black,” “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey,” “Free As A Bird,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and, of course, “Not Guilty.”