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County Environmental Health Manager retires after 30 years


    The longest-serving government employee in the county, Jan Stephens is retiring after 30 years. She is presented a plaque by Environmental Health Director Ray King.

    Jan Stephens is retiring this month after 30 years as the Environmental Health Manager for Pickens County. She was originally hired under commissioner Bill Quinton and, at her retirement, is one of the longest serving employees working out of the county offices.

    At a party in her honor Thursday, Stephens was recognized as a problem solver for people of this county.  Her counterpart in Gilmer County, Andrea Martin, once worked under Stephens and said she is the type of person who isn’t afraid to get dirty when the job called for it.
    “She was a real asset to the people of Pickens County,” Martin said. “With her it was always about helping solve problems.”
    Ray King, the district environmental health director, said Stephens went above and beyond in all her duties. And duties of a county environmental health manager are varied –  rabies control, land use, septic system inspections, well water testing, food service, tourist accommodations, public swimming pools and body art.  Stephens noted that her job had evolved greatly over the years with items like ambulance inspections, jail inspections and personal care homes all temporarily added to her duties at different periods under her 30-year tenure. All three of those inspections were later moved to other agencies. 
    Her unusual duties also included public AIDS education for a period of time.  Finally in 1998 another full time environmentalist was hired, making life much easier for her, she said.
    Stephens never shirked from fairly revolting duties, her co-workers recalled. Stephens said nothing topped the day she had to cut the brain out of a dead cow to send it for a rabies test. Beheading dead raccoons for testing was a common occurrence during peak rabies seasons.
    Throughout her career, Stephens went to great length to encourage rabies vaccinations for pets as an important public health issue, detailing cases where pets may have saved the day as well as the unfortunate cases where pets hadn’t been inoculated before exposure to rabid animals.
    One of the more humorous days on the job involved the remains of a sick kitten that bit its owner, then died. 
    “We picked it up for testing, already well wrapped,” said Stephens. “I love animals, so not wanting to see it, shipped it without opening the package. The next day the director of the state rabies lab called me laughing and asked why I had sent them a broccoli casserole.  We had picked up the owner’s leftovers instead of the kitten.”
    During her career, Stephens used the mantra, “Educate, Communicate, then Regulate and Cooperate.” 
    “If you did the first two, the second two were easy,” she said. At the retirement party, she was presented a painting made by Martin of the symbols for those four words. 
    Of course, she also coined the phrase “we put the mental in environmental.”
    The district health department has not hired a replacement for Stephens at this point, but is continuing to interview.  In the interim, District Environmental Health Director King will handle the operation of the Pickens office.
    Stephens said she was deeply humbled by the turnout of people for her retirement party.
    “It has been my privilege to have a job I enjoyed, while making friends and getting to work all over our beautiful county,” she said.
    After retirement, her plans include travel, remodeling her home, gardening and “spending time on the four-wheeler and in the creek with her grandchildren.”