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Sep 8, 2010 10:14 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Court clerk celebrating 80th birthday has no plans to retire

Sep 8, 2010 10:14 AM

No one has to hold the door open for Claire Mason. In fact, the 80-year-old Southampton Town Justice Court senior clerk will hold it open for you.

The Hampton Bays resident, who lives just minutes away from the justice court complex, is celebrating her birthday today—Thursday, September 9—and is sprier than ever, according to her coworkers.

Ms. Mason said she lives her life unafraid and unmoved by her age. Her special daily diet includes two to three Dewar’s scotches after work, a couple of Salem cigarettes, and three meals—with lunch taken between 3 and 4 p.m. She usually wakes up between 5:30 and 6 a.m., and turns in around 10 p.m. each night.

The list goes on. She works long hours at the court, arriving at 9 a.m. and leaving about 7 p.m. each weekday. She said she loves to dance and enjoys working in her garden and completing other chores. She is also a traveler, pointing out that she just returned from a trip to Nova Scotia. She also visits Atlantic City twice a year with some of her friends at Town Hall.

Standing at just about 5 feet tall, Ms. Mason is bubbly and effervescent, possessing a positive outlook on life. She punctuates almost all of her sentences with a cheery laugh. She sports a youthful spirit and a charming, larger-than-life personality that automatically draws people to her.

There are three things that Ms. Mason credits to her full life: good thoughts, nice friends and a beautiful family. And her guiding principle: “You’ve got to make yourself happy,” as she often says.

That is not to say Ms. Mason hasn’t experienced her share of sadness. She is twice widowed and she spent several years of her life battling breast cancer, eventually losing her left breast to the disease. Her doctor said she wouldn’t beat the disease, she recalled during a recent interview.

“I was 49, and I’m still here,” she said. “I’m still here.”

Ms. Mason takes on a wealth of different tasks throughout the day at the justice court. Her primary role as senior court clerk is to deal with the court’s various monetary transactions, such as the collection of money posted for bail and parking fine fees. She also records other revenues and interacts with attorneys.

Ms. Mason also writes grants for the court every year, and those have landed the facility some of its hi-tech equipment, including a safe in her office, an X-ray machine, and new computers and printers for town employees.

She also supervises the office when her supervisor, Chief Court Clerk Renee Brathwaite, is absent. Ms. Brathwaite, who says she is very fond of Ms. Mason, said she depends on her coworker to keep things running smoothly. Ms. Brathwaite said she rests easy knowing that Ms. Mason will be able to handle any situation that is thrown her way.

“She actually handles and runs this court just like a leader is supposed to,” she said.

Ms. Mason moved up to the position of senior justice court clerk about four years ago. She started working at the court 16 years ago—on March 15, 1994—as a cashier, where she dealt with “all the complaints of the day,” she said, while laughing.

Aside from her normal duties, Ms. Mason said she often finds herself taking on extra work when the office’s 13 other court clerks are tied down or busy helping others.

Ms. Mason said she is proud of where she works, having helped to organize the move of the court complex from the basement of Southampton Town Hall in Southampton Village to Hampton Bays earlier this year. While leading a tour of the new space, Ms. Mason eagerly showed off the building, opening doors to all the rooms, including the judges’ offices, the drug court, the jurors’ meeting room, the cubicle area where the clerks work and the building’s vast, sunny kitchen.

“You think we’re happy?” Ms. Mason said, stopping in the middle of the tour. “We’re ecstatic.”

She explained that while the court was in the basement of Town Hall, there were no windows and the 14 women had to share one bathroom. Now, she said, they share eight bathrooms and, more important, court employees no longer have to contend with unusual odors.

“We love it,” Ms. Mason said of the new court digs. “No mold. No mildew. No stink from the cesspool. We have windows we can see out of.”

She also pointed out that the new building has helped bump up morale around the workplace. “The attitudes and teamwork improved considerably,” she said.

Ms. Mason said she does not have any plans to retire soon. And, she added, not one of her coworkers, including those who are eligible to retire early as part of a new state incentive, seems too interested in taking it.

“There was three of us here who got letters, and nobody wants to retire,” she said.

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Clean livin', baby. Clean livin'...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 9, 10 11:10 PM
Dont think Dewar's Scotch and cigarettes represents clean living. You know what they say, " only the good die young".
By ReelT (8), Hampton Bays on Sep 13, 10 1:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
Congratulations to one great lady, happy birthday Claire.
By reg rep (408), Southampton on Sep 14, 10 7:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
Nice lady. Nice story. Hope we all are able to live as busy and full a life as she does when we are her age.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Sep 17, 10 11:51 AM