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Calling it a Career

In about a month and a half Ray T. Dutey will leave as Lawrence County Auditor, a post he first took over in 1987 and has held continuously ever since. His retirement on March 14 will cap a segment of a career in local politics that started back in 1957.

They call him “Moose.” It’s been that way since kindergarten, says Ray T. “Moose” Dutey.

“How I got that name, I don’t know,” Dutey said. “It’s not because I’m big and strong. If someone would say Ray, I don’t know …”

But as friend, ally or political foe tells it, there is nothing diminutive about the long-reaching influence of this soon-to-be 81-year-old.

Lifelong Republican. Head of the party for the past 20 years. County Auditor. County Recorder. Coal Grove mayor. Coal Grove Councilman. Friend of the powerful. Undefeated candidate. Aggressive and shrewd campaigner.

The silver-haired Dutey with the mellifluent voice and Old World manners has held all those titles.

In about a month and a half he will leave as Lawrence County Auditor, a post he first took over in 1987 and has held continuously ever since. His retirement on March 14 will cap a segment of a career in local politics that started back in 1957.

The day after Dutey leaves office Jason Stephens goes from the Lawrence County Commission to taking over where Dutey left off as the county auditor. Stephens, who has the distinction of being the youngest elected official in the county, has worked beside Dutey since 1996 and praises him as a man flexible and innovative in his thinking.

“He is always willing to incorporate younger people in the office and in political campaigns,” Stephens said. “He has a young mind. Even as a young person when I first began running, he was always willing to sit and talk and listen. New ideas, he was willing to take on. And he was a legend outside of politics. The press box at Coal Grove was named after him. He lives on a street named for him. It is quite a legacy.”

Sharon Hager, now the county recorder, was Dutey’s deputy when he held that post. Watching him in action gave Hager some of her first lessons in what it means to be a public servant.

“He truly enjoys what he does. He loves helping people,” Hager said. “He has a reassuring presence and is going to do all he can regardless of party affiliation.”

Dutey was 15 when he discovered the passion that would give him a six-decade career. His father, James Dutey, was clerk for the Dawson-Bryant School District and would take his teenage son to the school board meetings.

“I liked that,” Dutey recalled. “I just liked the competition that they would have with the school board races.”

In May 1951 he was drafted into the Army to serve in the Korean Conflict.

“After I came back from Korea, I wanted to go into politics,” he said.

Like father, like son, Dutey threw his loyalties to the Republican camp. In 1957 he went on the Coal Grove Village Council and later ran for a Republican central committeeman slot.

In fact, ask Dutey why he didn’t become a Democrat, he involuntarily shudders, then laughs at his own reaction. The answer is simple: What the Republicans believe in, is what Dutey believes in.

“In the state, it is for smaller government,” he said. “But locally, I just think we’re the party to help people. That is the main thing.”

Dutey first walked into the auditor’s office that he would one day hold on May 20, 1948. That’s when it was part of the county engineer’s complex and he started working there as part of the surveying crew.

But that kind of work wasn’t what got Dutey impassioned. What he wanted to do was get out and meet the people, help the people, serve the people.

One of Dutey’s closest political friends is Dr. Burton Payne, onetime county commissioner and former Republican party chief. He sums up Dutey’s success in a word: “Integrity.”

“If he tells you something today, it will be the same next week or the week after,” Payne said. “He’s always been very active and strong in his feelings and lived up to it. In 1964, I ran for county commission and he ran for county recorder. We campaigned together. His campaign style is very personal and he does his homework.”

And he’s not afraid to talk to the most powerful if he thinks he can help them advance the Republican cause. Case in point came when President George W. Bush was campaigning the second time around with a stop in Huntington, W.Va. That was an opportunity Dutey refused not to take advantage of.

“I went up to Huntington the night before and met with the Secret Service,” Dutey said.

The next day Bush was campaigning in front of the Lawrence County Courthouse. Bush won the county.

On the wall opposite from where Dutey sits in his courthouse office is a small bookcase. Only about three-feet high, it is filled with knickknacks from friends. Dominating the shelves is a collection of elephants, that symbol of the Grand Old Republican party.

There are porcelain elephants, gold-veneered elephants, baby ones and ferocious ones. Propped up on the top shelf by itself is a child’s stuffed toy, brown, fuzzy in the shape of a congenial-looking moose.

That bookcase could play metaphor for Dutey’s life, in and out of the political arena. There may be many Republicans in Lawrence County, but there’s only one Moose.