Rivers steps down after 25 years of service
Mayor Tommy Rivers, right, received a plaque from the State House of Representatives honoring his years of service to the town.
Williston Mayor Tommy Rivers is a good man.
That sentiment was repeated by friends, family, colleagues and residents during an open house Sunday honoring Rivers, who is leaving office this month after 25 years of service. He was first elected to town council in 1988, and before that served on the school board. His last official council meeting was Monday night.
People flooded the town's fire department to celebrate the man who has led the small community since 1993 - when he replaced former mayor Buddy Brady.
Rivers shook hands and gave hugs as familiar faces voiced their appreciation for his commitment to the town.
Rivers was humble when talking about his career, saying most of his success is due to the great people he's worked with over the years.
"Williston doesn't have a lot of assets, but we have the best people in the world," he said.
When Rivers, 72 with a sharp wit and soothing smile, was first elected mayor, the town was running a deficit. Today, Williston has a $1 million surplus in its reserve fund.
Rivers said the secret to the town's success over the last two decades was a stable town council that worked together and bonded as friends. "We were very close," he said.
Two of those council members, Wanda B. Matthews and Jerry "Tuna" Holmes, are also leaving council this month.
"Tommy is like a father," Holmes said, "We tried to do what was right for Williston."
Matthews said Rivers is her "friend, pharmacist and mentor."
Things weren't always easy, Rivers said, and a lot of times council had to do things that were unpopular. "But you still have to do what you think is right," he said.
Rivers said his proudest accomplishment is the walking trail - built out of an old railroad bed that runs through the heart of town. He also points to the linking of the Elko and Williston water systems, the maintenance building, purchasing two fire trucks and not laying off any employees when the recession hit in 2008 as other highlights of his tenure.
He also reflected on two major fires: the 1993 Christmas Day fire that destroyed the First Baptist Church and the 1995 Williston town fire, which destroyed several buildings along Main Street.
Rivers has been in the pharmacy business since 1970 when he took over the drug store previously operated by Dr. Wallis Cone. Rivers said he plans to continue working at the pharmacy.
"I don't want to retire," he said.
Councilman Jason Stapleton, the man who is replacing Rivers as mayor, was a student intern at Rivers' Pharmacy in 1994. He spoke about the kindness Rivers showed to everyone.
Stapleton said if you were sick on a Sunday, you could call Tommy and he'd make sure you got what you needed from the drug store.
Rivers has been married to his wife, Mary, for 52 years. The couple has three children and eight grandchildren. Rivers said he was thankful for always "having a good woman tell me what to do."
People laughed when Mary told them how she used to give her husband advice about the town and his response would be, "Well, why don't you run for office?"
Rivers' son Chris, who will become a council member in October, said his dad has always been a loving man.
"He loved it (Williston) just like a family," he said, "Anything he ever gave we received back 10 times from the community"
State Rep. Lonnie Hosey, an Elko native who has known Rivers for years, presented a plaque from the State House of Representatives honoring Rivers for his long years of commitment to Williston.
State Senator Brad Hutto was also on hand, and said Rivers has always been kind to him.
Rivers also received a wooden rocking chair with the town's logo, his name and years of service engraved on it.
He said he's leaving office because it's time to pass the reins to a new generation, but that doesn't mean he'll stop caring.
"Sure I'm gonna miss it, I'm nosey and I like to know what's going on," he said.
Rivers' advice for town council: be conservative with taxpayers' money and maintain the quality of life.
"That's our biggest asset, is the citizen," he said.
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