2013: Women to Watch

Published 10:43 am Friday, February 15, 2013

If you want something, you’ve got to work for it; anything worth having is worth working for.

Those two facts of life were instilled in Melanie Storey’s mind at an early age by her father, Mills Vernon Hedgepeth of Eure in Gates County. She learned at a very early age that hard work leads to success. The fruit of that lifelong labor has ripened into the elected position of Hertford County Register of Deeds.

“I’m thankful for having a father and a mother (the now late Jeanette Hedgepeth) that steered me straight when I was young,” Storey said. “I’ve never shied away from work; I believe that making an honest living comes through effort and a desire to always seek to improve what you do no matter what that job details.”

Storey is no stranger to hard work, beginning at the ripe young age of 16, still a student at Gates County High School (Class of 1976) when she landed her first job at Hardees in Ahoskie.

“I saved my money so I could buy a car,” she recalled. “Daddy taught me that nobody is going to hand you anything; you’ve got to work for it. And when you work, always give it your best.”

While at Hardees she held down second job at the News-Herald.

“I always had a desire to work in an office setting, I wanted to be a secretary,” she said.

With that in mind, Storey landed an office job at White & Woodley (electrical/plumbing contractor in Ahoskie). From there she accepted a position as Office Manager at Animal Health and Specialties of Ahoskie (retail outlet for livestock farmers).

That business eventually closed, but Storey wasn’t the type to sit around. She scored a job with Carl Taylor at his new pharmacy in Gates County. A few years later, Storey’s career ventured into the state level as she was hired as an administrative office assistant with Roanoke-Chowan Mental Health, working for two years at the Wiccacon House near Harrellsville.

Storey even tried her hand in the legal profession by landing an office position in Ahoskie with Legal Services of the Coastal Plain.

“That proved to be an extremely rewarding job, especially considering that individuals such as Rosalyn Grant, Rob Lewis, Vernice Howard and Buddy Jones were part of that team back in those days,” Storey recalled.

She continued that profession by accepting a position with the Ahoskie law firm of Baker, Jenkins and Jones…working there as a legal assistant for eight years.

“There was a secretarial position open at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Winton; I applied, was interviewed by Deborah Howard (then the Director of the Hertford County office) and got the job,” she said.

That stage of her working career, which began in September of 1993, turned out to be the longest – 19 years in all. She was promoted in 2006 to Administrative Assistant.

Storey earned several accolades while working there – the Northeast District Award for Excellence and the North Carolina Executive Board Award for outstanding performance among administrative professionals. She also served for many years as Hertford County’s coordinator for the Governors Award for Volunteer Service.

“The administrative assistant’s position was jointly paid by the state and the county,” she said. “It was through that position where I was able to learn more about the inner workings of county government, which now reflecting upon is helping me with the transition to my new job as Register of Deeds. It gave me experience on budgeting and purchasing.”

Still, there was one major final hurdle to clear before Storey would take that step to enter the political arena and seek the office of an elected county official.

“I had a deep respect for Kathleen Wright (Hertford County’s Register of Deeds since 1988),” Storey remarked. “I admired her and the work she did for so many years for this county, so much to the point where even though I would have liked to have her job, I would not seek election to that office as long as she decided to continue as the Register.”

The door opened for Storey last year when Wright announced her retirement.

“Here was my opportunity,” Storey said. “I figured that at this stage of my life I may not have this opportunity again so I decided to go for it – to seek that office as Register of Deeds.”

With her father’s advice from years ago still fresh on her mind, Storey ventured into the unpredictable world of politics.

“It wasn’t an ego thing…..I didn’t grow up among ‘Who’s Who’; I’m not any better than anybody else,” she stressed. “To me it’s all working hard for what you want. I wanted this job, so I went to work to get it.”

In hindsight, Storey said she had no regrets in the way she conducted herself during a campaign that ended with victory in the May Primary where she captured nine of the county’s 13 precincts and defeated three other candidates seeking the same position. Storey ran unopposed during November’s General Election and received 8,975 votes en route to earning the job as Hertford County’s Register of Deeds.

“I advanced my career and feel 100 percent in my heart that I did it the right way, with dignity and respect,” she said. “Again, it’s all about having the desire to work hard to reach your goals. But I didn’t do this alone, I had a lot of support along the way…male and female; black and white. I love people, all people.”

As far as the learning curve for this new job was concerned, Storey said she prepared herself by visiting other county Register of Deeds offices and asking lots of questions. One of her biggest supporters in that effort was Sharon Harrell, the Register of Deeds in Gates County.

“I didn’t want this position to overwhelm me when I walked into this office for the first time, so that research was very important and Sharon was extremely helpful,” Storey said. “But even with all that preparation; even though I’ve been on the job now since early December, I still think to myself, wow, what a great job to have. Just think of all the history of Hertford County recorded in this office. I feel honored to serve as the protector of that history as well as a person that helps to add to it each and every day.”

It also helped to have two veteran Deputy Registers at the Hertford County office. Storey said she has learned a lot from Elvira Spiers (five years on the job) and Latia Lewter (three years).

“We work as a team,” she said.

Storey said there are beautiful, hand-written real estate documents on file in the vault that date back to 1864. Those records would have been even older had it not been for the fact that Union forces burned the county courthouse, along with nearly all dwellings and businesses in Winton, on Feb. 20, 1862 during the Civil War.

That rich history of the county isn’t limited to only real estate transactions. On file are birth and death certificates (early 1900’s and forward), and marriage licenses (the earliest on file is 1886).

“You can go back there and look at those books and shivers will run down your spine,” she said. “It’s amazing what’s back there and what’s added every day. It’s our job to preserve and keep those valuable records. A lot of effort goes into the preservation of those documents for the simple reason that what you’re looking at is the history of this county.”

Also on file are land plat maps and military discharge papers.

Among those using the Register of Deeds Office on a regular basis include attorneys performing title searches and genealogists searching for family-related information.

“When you think about that you are the keeper of some of the most precious documents in the county, it gives you a good feeling,” Storey said. “I would encourage people to come in here and take a look at what’s on file. These are public records.”

Storey said she was continuing an effort launched by Wright to have more of these files available via the Internet.

“Beginning in 2000 there was a big push to place these files, especially the real estate files, online,” she said. “One of my goals is to scan more of these documents and make them available electronically by visiting our website. It’s a big job, but I feel it’s good customer service.”

The Register of Deeds Office is where a couple goes to obtain a marriage license. It also serves as the place where Notary Publics in the county are sworn-in and have their files on record.

“We work closely with the Hertford County Tax Office from the standpoint that before a real estate document can be recorded here, it must be accompanied by a tax certificate, ensuring that the taxes are paid and up to date,” Storey said. “We also collect excise tax here (on real estate transactions). All the State Highway Commission plans and plats involving Hertford County are part of our records. We even keep up with the certificates dealing with the moving of a grave or an entire cemetery.

“It’s a challenging job, but it’s one I love to do,” she added. “I learn something new each and every day. Perhaps that’s why you see Register of Deeds staying on the job for 20 or 30 years….it’s something they love to do.”

What sounds like a nightmare to research all these files is actually fairly easy through an indexing system. That system includes the name or names recorded on each document, thus broadening the research effort.

Storey has attended two days of intense Basic Register of Deeds training in Chapel Hill for this new job. To pass that course, Storey needed a score of 70 or above. She scored an 88.

That training will continue as Storey is required to have 50 hours of instruction within a five-year period.

“Anything that will help me become better at what I do, I’m all for it,” she stressed. “Again, it all goes back to what daddy said so many years ago…if you want something, you’ve got to work for it. I’m here to work, and to work for the people of Hertford County and my goal is to do the best job I can do in serving them. Hopefully, if the citizens will allow me, I want to serve them for a long time.”

Storey is also active in other capacities. For the past 10 years she has assisted with the Hertford County Board of Elections Office. Because of her hard work and expertise, she was selected as Chief Judge of a voting precinct.  She takes pride in making sure the voting process at her precinct runs smoothly and honestly.

In 2009, Storey served on the Hertford County 250 year anniversary celebration planning committee.

She has also been involved with the Hertford-Gates Relay for Life.  Her involvement began as a team member and grew to serving as a team captain.  As a result of her passion, she was asked to serve as Publicity, Entertainment and Survivor Committee Chair.  In 2006, she received Relay for Life Impact Award.

Storey also takes pride in her support of the American Red Cross. She recently received her two gallon blood donor pin.

She is a member of Winton Baptist Church where she serves on the Hospitality Committee.

Melanie is married to Jerry Storey and they reside on the picturesque Storey Brook Farm just outside of Murfreesboro.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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