A special folder sits among the files on the desk of Newport Mayor Derryl Garner.
Red hearts are colored on the front, and inside is a stack of thank-you letters from the latest class of third-graders from Newport Elementary School to have visited him at town hall.
They love sitting in the mayor’s chair and Garner has loved leading them to the Town Council Chamber to show them where town business in conducted.
"I let them sit in the mayor’s chair and I tell them ‘You can sit in the mayor’s chair one day, or the governor’s chair, or the president’s chair,’" he said.
He sees their potential, just as others saw his and set in motion a term as town mayor that has lasted 36 years.
Garner said he was approached by several people about running for mayor in 1977. With no local government experience, he was hesitant but was reminded there were schools he could go to and training he could take.
After talking with his wife and getting the OK from the commanding general at Cherry Point, where he worked at Fleet Readiness Center East, he decided to run for election.
"I didn’t really anticipate winning and I would not have been disappointed had I not won, but I did and it certainly opened my eyes as to what local government is all about," he said.
He knows not every decision he’s made has pleased everyone, but Garner said he’s always tried to make the best decision possible for the community, whether it’s the town proper or the area beyond.
The projects have been many and one of the first was getting Howard Boulevard, which runs in front of the current town hall and is a main road in town, brought up to state road standards from the town to U.S. 70.
"It was only nine feet wide when it was first paved and it stayed that way for years," he said.
The road improvements took a couple years but were accomplished in his first term, and there have been many other notable projects accomplished by the town while he’s been mayor.
When Garner first took office a couple of rooms at the fire department also served as town hall, the town council meeting room and the town library.
Getting a town library and town hall were priorities.
Garner said a previous town board while Gilbert Slaughter was mayor had purchased land where the town hall and library are located, and the library was first to be built on the site while a warehouse was used temporarily for some town office space.
Land where the post office is now located was purchased with plans to eventually build a municipal building.
Garner said that changed when a real estate company showed up looking for a spot to build a post office in Newport. They would need the whole site the town had set aside for municipal offices.
"I asked them what kind of price they could offer. They said, well, the most we could offer is $240,000, and I said that’s the least we can take," he said. "I won’t say how much they paid but we built the town hall (adjacent to the library) and we furnished it and it was a turn-key job."
The town park, the police station and multiple sewer upgrades, including a new wastewater facility ready to be built, are a few of the other projects that have highlighted Garner’s time as mayor.
Garner has also served as a voice for the wider community, particularly when it comes to protecting the military presence in the region and state.
He retired from a 42-year career at Cherry Point in 1992, achieving the position of manager of systems safety engineering at Fleet Readiness Center East.
A lifelong resident of Newport, he knows the strong relationship Newport has with neighboring Cherry Point in Havelock. And nearby are Camp Lejeune and the military installations in Onslow County.
When the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was considering closures in the early 1990s, Garner had just retired from Cherry Point and stood ready to help stand up in support of area military bases. He testified before the commission in 1993.
"The military means a tremendous amount to Carteret County, not just Carteret County but the whole area," Garner said.
Garner has also been active in Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow, a group of civic leaders that lobbies for the base.
Among the many other organizations he has been part of are the N.C. League of Municipalities and the N.C. State Ports Authority.
For the town’s many accomplishments, he gives credit to the town’s dedicated staff and the town board. The projects have been the work of many, but he’s proud to have been a part of them.
"I hope I’ve made a difference and if I’ve made a positive difference, then I’m glad I was elected," he said.
Garner said he’s had help and support from many people along the way, including folks like the late Morehead City Mayor Bud Dixon, who offered encouragement in his early days as mayor. And always at his side has been his wife, Jane.
"I could not have done any of this without the support of my wife," he said.
But after 36 years as mayor, Garner, who will be 81 this month, said it’s time for him to let someone else step up to the mayor’s seat. He chose not to seek re-election.
His advice to the next mayor: "Love your people."