By Taylor Boyd
After finishing her final meeting as a member of the Patrick County Board of Supervisors, Crystal Harris reflected on her 21 years of service to the county.
Harris, who represented the Smith River District, said she initially did not want to become a supervisor, but felt she was called to do so. After waiting for the supposed whim to pass, Harris decided to pick up a packet one Friday afternoon.
“It was after 3 o’clock, I went to the Registrar’s office and Ms. Peggy West (then registrar) said to me ‘Crystal Harris what do you think you’re doing?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but give me the packet,’” Harris said.
Over the weekend, Harris made phone calls and a flyer that she distributed the following Monday. The election was the next day, and she won.
Harris recalled that she had difficulty accepting the position, because she had always believed that men were the leaders.
“But at one of our meetings, Rev. Jack Foley came to see me. He needed me to know that the Lord chose the leaders, and I needed to accept this in life,” she said.
Looking back on her multiple decades of service to the county, Harris said she believes her greatest achievement was supporting improvements in its infrastructure.
“My vision has always been the wagon wheel. The hub is in Stuart as the county seat. The spokes of the wagon wheel are the other magisterial districts,” she said.
During her tenure, the Enterprise Zone was created to provide incentives to businesses locating in some areas of the county. The U.S. 58 corridor project was also created, and several retail companies, like Tractor Supply and Family Dollar, opened in the county.
To build on those successes, Harris said additional infrastructure, in the form of better roads and water/sewage services, are still needed to attract additional jobs and grow the tax base.
“This has been hard to pass because we have our own wells and septic tanks, but for businesses to come, we really need to have that available for them. I don’t want to lose the beauty that Patrick County has, because Patrick County is God’s country. It’s a little piece of heaven,” she said.
Working as a proponent for broadband was another achievement. Harris spoke before Congress, along with Jonathan Large, about the need for better internet access.
More recently, “the Broadband Committee has done a great job to help keep the process moving and we are looking forward to seeing this project come to fruition. Sometimes, little things like that gets missed. Just because we aren’t making progress fast doesn’t mean we aren’t making progress at all,” she said.
Harris said the county also suffered several losses during her tenure, including the destruction of the Bob White Covered Bridge in 2015.
It was “a historical bridge that belonged to Patrick County. That was one of the first things that people came to see when they came to the county,” she said.
The closing of the Pioneer Community Hospital was another loss, according to Harris said, who recalled the supervisors and the Economic Development Authority (EDA) worked hard to maintain the hospital and even gave funds to financially support it.
“However, when it was sold to a private company, we lost all control. We had no voice over the closing. I lost more sleep over that over the whole year” than anything else, Harris said, adding the closing also is the biggest regret of her tenure.
Harris said serving on the Patrick County Education Foundation was among her most rewarding experiences, because she said she felt she was helping to move the county’s education forward and improve the high school graduation rates.
“It was from young people who dropped out of school, to people in their 60s and 70s who had gotten their high school education but were already retired. This was a goal in their lives. To see the look of their accomplishments” was her favorite thing, she said.
Harris, who joined the board in 2001, did not seek reelection in 2021 because she felt it was time for a younger person with a new vision.
“I believe I leave the county in good hands. A good board, and positive people. I feel as though great strides have been made in the past couple of years,” Harris said. “I’ve worked with seven different county administrators, different boards, and each is different. We all strived to do what is right for Patrick County. It is a team effort.”