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Dick Grayson… a Johnson County icon

The August election was the first time in 44 years that county residents did not see the familiar name of Dick Grayson on the ballot. Having served the county in various capacities, Grayson has become a well-known and respected figure around the county as well as the region as a whole.
A resident his whole life, Grayson graduated from Johnson County High School in 1959. Following a one-year effort at the University of Tennessee, the young man switched to East Tennessee State University to be closer to home. Graduating ETSU in 1963, Grayson became proficient in several areas including history, geography, and economics, ultimately obtaining a bachelor’s degree in social studies.
For the first few years following his graduation Grayson tried various jobs including substitute teaching and working for insurance companies such as Equitable Insurance. Ultimately landing a job with the Johnson, Carter, and Unicoi County Human Development Corporation, Grayson began his professional career in human services. Switching to the department of human services, the future Johnson County mayor began his work as an eligibility counselor, a position he held for seven years.
Eventually obtaining the position of supervisor, Grayson worked for the department until elected to the full time position of county executive in 2002.
Having pulled a term as president of the young Republican club at ETSU in 1962 the young graduate felt motivated toward politics and Grayson officially began his county political career in 1966 when he was successfully elected to the county court. Now known as the county commission, he held the position until1972. During his term Burlington Industries became interested in locating in the county, pending the creation of an airport. The court agreed to build the facility, but was met with strong criticism. It was this controversy, which Grayson attributes to his loss of re-election in the following term.
However, Grayson didn’t let a defeat that year slow him down and was elected to the school board in 1974. Interest in the school board sprang from his family life, and with a two-year-old child at the time, he felt that “As a parent I should be active in the schools.”
The school board would turn out to be his longest run in county politics, lasting 28 years. Impressively, not a single meeting was missed during that span of time.
In the early part of the new millennium there was every indicator that Johnson County was experiencing a period of growth, with large numbers of new people moving here each year and local attractions like the golf course booming. It was during this economic climate that Grayson ran for and was elected to the county executive position, and despite the downturn that began in 2006, was able to keep the county on stable footing.
With a successful four years complete, the mayor was re-elected in 2006 and helped to support a county that was facing many of the same economic problems of the state and nation. Yet, despite an often-tight budget, many outstanding accomplishments were achieved in his eight years. Notably the two biggest changes were the updated renovations of the courthouse, which brought the building up to ADA standards, and the completion of the new county jail. Although the previous commission had approved the funding for the jail project, Grayson’s administration saw savings of more than $500,000 off the original bid.
Looking toward the future of the county, Grayson stated that he “feels that industry will come back to this area. Students in the county are going to have to be more diverse. There will be a need for skilled labor.” This is supported by more than $400,000 in funding that was obtained from the Niswonger Foundation, which goes to the creation of general construction vocational classes. Additionally Grayson is proud to have seen the establishment of distance learning programs initiated in the county with Milligan College and Northeast State Community College. Students can now get most of their core curriculum right here in the county.
Following a lengthy and successful career, Grayson decided to retire this past year. Ending two terms as mayor, he began the process of helping to familiarize current Mayor Larry Potter. After addressing the commission the last time in August, Grayson has spent the last few weeks tying up loose ends and continuing to support Potter. When asked about his plans for the future, Grayson stated,” The good thing about being retired is that you don’t have to make any plans. Everyday seems like a Saturday. I’m just taking life easy and trying to be happy.”
When asked about his time in office, the former mayor stated, “I have been very blessed, and only history will tell how much of a contribution I actually leave behind.” Yet, with so many years of dedicated work, many of the seeds he planted are already beginning to bear fruit. From public water in communities like Sutherland to broadband internet access in over 70% of the county, many of the projects begun under Grayson’s tenure will continue to change the county in positive ways, ensuring his place in the county’s history.