RALEIGH, N.C. – The woman responsible for maintaining the city's records says knowing she's writing the history of Raleigh is a special feeling.

What You Need To Know

  • Gail Smith just celebrated 50 years working for the city of Raleigh

  • Smith started as a deputy clerk in 1971 and became city clerk two years later

  • She was recently honored by all of Raleigh's living former mayors

  • Smith calls her job a great way to give back to the community

When Gail Smith answered a newspaper ad for a deputy city clerk in early 1971, she says she wasn't quite sure what her job would entail. But the timeshare computer company she worked for at the time kept getting bought out and she had a child on the way, so she wanted something more stable.

The city council gave Raleigh City Clerk Gail Smith a copy of this article from The Raleigh Times as part of the celebrations surrounding her 50th year on the job. Smith was hired as a deputy clerk in 1971 and assumed her present job two years later.

“I had learned it was not with the police department and I was not going to get a gun and a badge, but it turned out great,” she said. “So I've been here ever since.”

Two years later, then-city clerk Mary Lassiter retired after 25 years on the job. Smith succeeded her and has held the role ever since. She is now the longest-serving city clerk in Raleigh's history.

The job of city clerk makes Smith the custodian of all of the city's records. She says her days frequently begin with a visit to her mailbox to collect the contracts and agreements that need a physical signature followed by conference calls on the status of those contracts.

Perhaps her most visible role is taking the minutes for every city council meeting. Those minutes eventually go into a vault just steps away from her desk. In reviewing those minutes, many of them from her own career, Smith says it's striking how often the same or similar issues are brought before the city council over and over again.

For example, when the city renovated Moore Square Park in the 1920s, records show one of the biggest points of contention was whether the park would have bathroom facilities. The same question came up again when the park was renovated nearly a century later.

Smith looks through a book of old city council minutes inside the vault near her desk. She said one of the most satisfying things about her job is the ability to write the city's history as it unfolds.

“The city has the same items before it now it had in the 30s,” she said. “Same issues, magnified, I guess you would say.”

At a ceremony honoring Smith during the city council's July 7 meeting, Mayor Mary Ann Baldwin noted Smith has served 26 city councils and 12 mayors and has attended more than 1,600 city council meetings. Smith says every city council has its own unique makeup and its own dynamics, but she enjoys working with them all. 

Among the mayors Smith worked for was the man whose name now adorns city hall: Avery Upchurch. Smith says she has very fond memories of Upchurch, who was mayor from 1983 to 1993 and died a few months after he left office.

She says Upchurch never seemed to regard the mayor's office as a springboard for higher office and always saw it as a way to make Raleigh a better place to live.

Smith says perhaps the most rewarding thing about her work is the fact that, as the city's custodian of records, she plays a key role in keeping residents informed about what's going on in their community. She says local government has a lot of power over people's lives, so it's important for people to be involved in some way in their local government.

If they want to take that involvement to the next level by working for local government, she says it's a great way to give back. City clerks serve at the pleasure of the city council. Smith says for now, she plans to continue serving as long as the council wants her to.