40 years is a huge milestone, but for Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters -- he's been in office longer than the county mayor position even existed.
Waters is Tennessee's longest-serving county mayor now that he's entered his 40th year. He's right there with Tennessee's longest-serving active city mayor of 41 years -- Rogersville mayor Jim Sells.
In 1978, Waters was elected the first ever county executive, a position previously called county judge. From 1978 to 2018, Waters has won ten elections, including his most recent in 2018.
“I found that I enjoy it as much today as I enjoyed as much today as I did when I took office 40 years ago," said Waters. "Now, does that mean I enjoy every day? Absolutely not.”
Waters says the hardest time he's served as mayor fell during the Sevier County Wildfires. Fourteen deaths and thousands of buildings damaged or destroyed brought hardship to the county, and Waters remained at the center of the spotlight answering questions about blame and working to rebuild the county.
"The roughest period in time was the fires," Waters said. "But you know I can look at those grandkids with a satisfaction knowing that I think Sevier County has made a lot of progress in the past 30 years... I look at that and get a lot of satisfaction out of that."
Waters is known by his staff for a sense of humor in the midst of difficult decision making. Vice Mayor Bryan McCarter was four years from being born, when Mayor Waters was first elected.
"I always tell folks that we've become so close he's like another great grandpa to me," McCarter joked. "He's seriously a great guy. I could not have a better job than working for him. We deal with situations that can be frustrating and stressful but he tends to look at the lighter side of things and can make you laugh. It makes coming to work more enjoyable.”
When asked what the biggest misconception about him is, Waters noted his humble beginnings.
“Some folks think that because you’re a mayor you were born somewhere into a family with a lot of money and influence. I wasn’t," Waters said. "I was born in a rural area in Sevier county and grew up on a farm and worked in a saw mill and waited tables.”
Waters also noted that many don't know behind closed doors, he enjoys spending time with his grandkids, even if it means ditching the adults.
“I’ve got 3 granddaughters and a grandson and a lot of times I'm in there with dolls and they dress me up which would be pretty unusual," he said. "I always end up in the play room with them and all of the adults are in the living room and I’m in there playing.”
When asked to name a highlight during his career, Waters noted his ability to keep a working relationship with most people, including enemies.
“Obviously I have enemies. There is no question about that. You can’t be in this office as long as I have without having enemies," he said.
"But...I’m able to get along with them and have a good dialogue with them and that's a highlight for me. You’re not always going to agree, but as long as you can keep a dialogue and a relationship going, you’re going to be able to move forward.”