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Trinity County News 2

Remembering Groveton Mayor Byron Richards

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011421 obit richardsCOURTESY PHOTO Byron Allen Richards

June 12, 1941 - Jan. 5, 2021

Byron Allen Richards died and went to his eternal home to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus, on Jan. 5, 2021, in Lufkin, at the age of 79 years. He was born in Houston on June 12, 1941, to Ransom Allen Richards and Marjorie Nell Singletary Richards.

Byron was a loving husband, father, brother and grandfather. He worked and retired from banking after more than 40 years of service, ending his career at First Bank of Groveton when he retired in 2006. Afterwards, he was appointed as Mayor of Groveton, where he served for 10 years until his death. He loved Groveton and the surrounding communities. During his term as Mayor, he oversaw multiple projects for the city, including improvements to the community water and sewer system, positioning the City of Groveton for long-term viability. He was most proud of the project he worked on for more than six years — restoring downtown Groveton. He worked diligently in applying for numerous grants to fund the renovation. Under his leadership, the city has been able to invest more than $50 million into its infrastructure. He loved to help people and recently answered the call to become a volunteer chaplain. Byron served as the assistant chaplain of CHI St. Luke’s Health Care for two years and enjoyed visiting with patients twice a week every week. He never missed a day. Byron was a past member of Lion’s Club and was voted citizen of the year during 2019-2020. He also enjoyed motorcycles, especially Harley Davidsons. He liked going on motorcycle trips and when he wasn’t tinkering with that then his other “pride and joy” was his classic Ford truck.

Byron is preceded in death by his parents, Ransom Richards and Marjorie Richards; and his brother, Gary Neil Richards. His survivors include his loving wife of 38 years, Sandra Richards; of Groveton; his sons, Gregory A. Richards and wife, Kimberly Richards, of Kerrville, and Ty Wenglar, and wife, Cathy, of Austin; daughters, Gina Diane Hollis and husband, Ron Hollis, of Austin, and Tia McLaughlin and husband, Grant McLaughlin, of Lovelady; his grandchildren, Macy, Alex, Emily, Mikinna, Micheala, Jonah, Brook Elizabeth, Jaxson, John Paul, Zohe Marie, Vivian, Reagan, and Liam; and a host of other relatives and friends.

Celebration of life services will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, at Pennington Baptist Church in Pennington, with the Rev. Bud Magee officiating and the Rev. Drew Scott assisting. The family understands that friends may not want to attend the celebration of life due to concerns over the spread of COVID. Friends are welcome to send their fondest memories, stories or prayers by emailing them to Bryon's son, Greg, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In lieu of flowers, the family invites friends to purchase a commemorative paver for the Groveton downtown sidewalk. Please contact City Secretary Donna Dial for details.

Please share your memories with the family and sign our online guestbook by visiting www.grovetonfuneralhome.com

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Groveton rocked by mayor’s death

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mayorCOURTESY PHOTO Mayor Richards of Groveton

 
By Tony Farkas

GROVETON — Mayor Byron Richards of Groveton passed away on Monday from complications due to COVID-19.

Funeral services are pending.

Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Bennett said that Richards died last night, but he was not aware of it until he received a call at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday from a fellow City Council member.

“This is a shocking development,” Bennett said. “It’s hard for me to believe that he’s gone. We were aware he had possibly contracted the virus, and he had taken himself and his wife to CHI St. Luke’s Hospital in Lufkin.”

Bennett also said that Richards contacted him Monday afternoon.

“He told me over the phone that he wasn’t going to make it,” Bennett said. “It was a hard phone call to get. I’m still shook by it.

“He thanked the secretaries for the job they’ve done for the city, and thanked the Council for backing him 100 percent,” Bennett said. “He said that I would do a good job for the city.”

County Judge Doug Page, who also serves as the county’s Emergency Management director, called the news shocking.

He said that Richards found out he had contracted the virus on New Year’s Eve.

“As long as we’ve been dealing with the coronavirus, it’s the quickest I’ve heard of it taking someone down,” Page said. “It’s hitting close to home, and we will react appropriately at the county level.”

Bennett said Richards’ wife, Sandi, also had contracted the disease, but has improved and been taken home.

Bennett described Richards as a very humble man who was extremely passionate about Groveton.

“The projects with the downtown renovations and changes with the water well, Richards was adamant about getting that done for the betterment of the community,” Bennett said.

Bennett said the city plans to carry out all current projects.

“We shouldn’t lose any continuity in those. I have a good idea of what to do,” he said. “It was always a dream for the council to bring about change the city, and the mayor was the perfect face for that.”

Bennett said he will assume mayoral duties.

Page said the county will continue to follow all state edicts regarding COVID-19.

He also said there will be a free coronavirus testing from 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Thursday at the Volunteer Fire Department in Trinity.

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Brookshire Brothers pharmacies offer COVID-19 vaccine

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BrookshiresFILE PHOTO Brookshire Brothers logo

Special to the News-Standard

LUFKIN — As distribution of the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine begins at a rapid pace, Brookshire Brothers Pharmacy is proud to be one of the first retailers in the nation to offer the vaccine, as it becomes available.

To maximize access to COVID-19 vaccines for all Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced a governmental partnership with large chain pharmacies and networks that represent independent pharmacies and regional chains — including those in retail and grocery chains — to further increase access to the vaccine across the country — particularly in traditionally underserved areas.

Brookshire Brothers is honored to partner with HHS and the states of Texas and Louisiana in offering COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine will be available in a phased approach, with the first doses being offered to healthcare workers and residents of long-term health care facilities, followed by essential workers and other high-risk individuals. It is expected to be available to the general public by spring or early summer of 2021 and will be administered at no cost to patients.

At the Tuesday, Dec. 22, Trinity County Commissioners’ Court meeting, Emergency Management Coordinator Richard Steptoe said that the Brookshire’s in Trinity has secured 40 vaccinations, and the Brookshire’s in Groveton has secured 10.

“Ensuring access and affordability of the COVID-19 vaccine for all Americans is a top priority for the Trump Administration,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “We are leveraging the existing private sector infrastructure to get safe and effective vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed into communities and into arms as quickly as possible with no out-of-pocket costs. The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and our new agreement with pharmacy partners across America is a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are available.”

Many pharmacists, such as the ones who work at Brookshire Brothers, are trained to provide immunizations and are already important immunizers in their communities. Pharmacists have been heralded for playing a vital role in the public health response to COVID-19 by counseling patients and expanding access to childhood vaccinations during the pandemic. By working with these partners, the federal government will rapidly expand access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“This is consistent with our commitment to being a trusted resource for our communities. Pharmacists and their staff are some of the most accessible healthcare professionals in the nation, and we stand ready to help increase access and convenience for people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, once it is approved and available to us,” said Laura Edmundson, Director of Clinical Pharmacy Programs at Brookshire Brothers.

For more information, visit BrookshireBrothers.com/pharmacy.

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Hanging it up (VIDEO)

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122420 bell 1TONY FARKAS | TCNS Joe Warner Bell talks about his tenure as County Attorney for Trinity County. His last day in office is Dec. 31.

Trinity County attorney retiring after 43 years

By Tony Farkas

GROVETON — When Joe Warner Bell first took office as Trinity County Attorney, cases were entered on typewriters, and the only places to buy liquor in the area was Houston, Huntsville and even Groveton.

The “mostly” Trinity County native has been County attorney 43 years, 3 months 16 days and 2 hours, give or take. He got into the position because he was appointed; Bell was in private practice in Trinity for six years prior to taking the county job.

“I was in general practice, which means I did anything that came my way, which is pretty much what I do now,” he said.

When the 258th Judicial District was created, they needed to fill three positions — district attorney, district judge and county attorney, and Bell got the nod.

He kept with it, though, for the simplest of reasons — it was a steady paycheck.

“It didn’t have a lot of benefits at the time, but I felt I could do more here than I could (in private practice),” he said.

Was appointed to the position first, then had been running for reelection since then.

In addition to the changes in liquor sales and technology, the courthouse has changed, including his office location, which was moved six or seven times over the course of his career.

Bell said the population of the county has doubled, and the jail, which has room for seven people and was almost never full, is full now almost all the time, with up to 40 inmates at a time.

The most contentious commissioners’ court Bell said he has advised was the first one he served with, since it had two commissioners who were related and on opposite sides of the political spectrum, another development that is mirrored in politics today.

Video interview with Joe Bell

“There was one commissioner that I had prosecuted three times for DWI,” Bell said. “In fact, on the filing day for election, he was sitting in jail.”

The things his office has had to deal with over the years has been varied, but one set of cases in particular stands out, and echoes some of the issues of today: election fraud.

“We had some guys that … liked to play the edge,” Bell said. “At that time you had to have an excuse to vote absentee — either you were elderly or were going to be out of town. (Apparently) there were many people who had never left Trinity County in their lives were going to be out of town on election day.”

Bell said there were ballots with forged signatures on them, and even a few of them were marked for people who were in nursing homes. Several elderly women voted twice; they had voted early, but were hauled to the polls on election day and were made to vote again.

“I didn’t grasp the depth of the problem until I got into office,” he said. “People have said that there’s nothing wrong with mail-in voting; I voted mail-in one time and it got lost. My mother, who was over 65, voted, and her vote was tossed out because they said she was a crazy old woman. What it was, the person she voted for, they didn’t want that vote counted.”

The more heartbreaking cases Bell said he has dealt with involves child abuse, especially when, as it happened in one case, involves the parents and stepparents. However, he said that the most rewarding part of the job was finding homes for neglected and abused children, and getting women away from abusive partners.

Also, when Bell took office, there was a civil suit against the county over county districts, which were said to have disenfranchised African American voters; Bell got the suit delayed until new district lines could be drawn, which led to the suit being dropped.

Bell said his position is to act as the attorney for the county, but there’s a difference between his office and district attorneys: the DA prosecutes felonies, and everything else falls under the purview of the county, except child support which goes to the attorney general.

122420 bell 2COURTESY PHOTO Trinity County Attorney Joe Warner Bell is presented with a plaque of appreciation by representatives of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments on Thursday. Bell has been a member of the DETCOG board for 42 ½ years, since July 1, 1978, which DETCOG Executive Director Lonnie Hunt described as “some kind of record.

“Also, we’re in charge of eminent domain, when the government comes to you and tells you they’re going to take your land,” he said. “We’ve only done that a couple of times; most landowners don’t mind giving up a little strip of land to make roads better or fix the bridges.”

Bell said his office represents the state in child protective services cases, as well as adult protective services cases.

“We’ve had a lot of fun,” Bell said. “I’m going to rest a bit, but I still have some work to do for the county. They’ve contracted me to do any redistricting (because of the 2020 Census).”

Bell said that the bulk of his job has been answering questions, then, after a long chuckle, Bell said of his successor, Colton Hay: “Be ready for it, it’s coming.”

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Groveton project making good progress (VIDEO)

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121720 sidewalk updateTONY FARKAS | TCNS Groveton Mayor Byron Richards shows one of the areas designated for personalized pavers, part of the city’s downtown revitalization project.

By Tony Farkas

GROVETON — The project to renovate and replace downtown sidewalks is proceeding rapidly.

Mayor Byron Richards said that the project should be completed around the end of March.

“The’ve got quite a bit done, and should have not problem finishing on time,” he said.

Crews started on the east side of the Square, replacing sidewalks and adding handicapped access and railings; Richards said because of the season, and because there were retail outlets on the west side, work there would begin after the end of the year.

The west side of the street will be a two-tier setup when completed, and there will be 18 old-style lights placed around the area. Colored contoured cement will be added around the sidewalks for some style and contrast.

“We’re trying to keep the old town charm, while showing that we’re progressive,” Richards said.

A new feature to be added will be personalized pavers, and room on both sides of the Square have been added. Richards said that orders have been sparse; however, the deadline is Feb. 28, 2021, and there are 450 spaces available.

In order to secure a spot, there are order forms available on the city’s website — cityofgroveton.com — or by calling the city at (936) 642-1122.

With the renovations, “maybe we can get some more businesses to move to the Square,” Richards said. “After TxDOT redid the street, we get a lot of traffic, and we want to make the city impressive.”

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