Kathleen Owen Powell served as the first female town clerk and treasurer for the Town of Williamston from 1939 to 1945.
During her time of service, World War II broke out with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and just a few days after the attack, then Williamston Police Chief Sylvester P. Crawford came to her office and placed a handgun on her desk.
According to Powell, he said to her, “I want you to feel safe.”
“We did not know what World War II was going to be like for us on the home front,” she said.
In August, Powell presented the gun to Williamston Mayor Carthel Crout, stating she intended to have it placed in a shadow box that could be mounted on a wall and would return to officially present it to the town.
On Thursday, Oct. 27, Powell returned to Williamston, along with family members, to present the historic pistol to the town during a special called meeting of Williamston Town Council.
Powell presented the boxed pistol and a plaque with information about it to the mayor with Councilmembers Tony Hagood, Mack Durham and David Harvell and Town Clerk Michelle Starnes present.
Former mayor Phillip Clardy and other members of the community also attended.
Powell, who is 90 years old, and husband Kenneth drove from Atlanta with son Kevin Powell and were joined by daughters Kathy Summers, and Kara White for the presentation.
Following the presentation, council adjourned and those in attendance were invited to the mayor’s office for cake.
While visiting with the mayor, Powell told several stories related to her time serving as clerk in Williamston.
Included was the story of what she described as the duties of citizens during the war.
For her this included watching for German aircraft from Harrison Tucker’s barn on the edge of town.
According to Powell, she would sit for two hours with a little chart that would tell what enemy aircraft looked like. She and a neighbor looked for the enemy planes. “I did my turn in the afternoons after I left work,” she said.
Powell also recounted that when she took the job as the town clerk, she didn’t know how to type. She was allowed to go back to school during her lunch hour to take typing. At first she walked from the old city hall, through the Mineral Spring Park to the school which was located on Gossett Dr.
It just so happened that the town’s new 1936 fire engine had to be started every day and Powell was offered a ride to her typing class..
“The fire truck had to be started every day or the battery would go down,” Powell said. “The volunteer fire department would take the fire truck for a spin to charge the battery on their lunch hour. So I rode to my typing classes on the fire truck,” she said.
The same fire engine has been restored by the town’s fire department and is available for rides during special events.
Powell was clerk when the firetruck was purchased new and had her photo taken with it then. The photo can be seen in Gene Welborn’s historical book, “A Town Springs Forth.”
Powell met with the mayor during the town’s Spring Water Festival in August to show him the handgun she planned to present to the town.
One highlight of the 30th annual festival was having the former town clerk ride the antique firetruck. Williamston Fire Chief Steve Ellison also had his picture made with Powell and the antique firetruck during the festival.
Powell also recounted practicing air raid drills in which she would push the fire alarm button in city hall, close all curtains and turn off all lights; and the first time she saw a female hitchhiker in Williamston.
According to Powell, the hitch hiker was placed in the jail overnight. “The next morning she was still in there,” Powell said. She was taken to the city limits and he (the police chief) put her out.”