John Paul Mathes, a ‘good ole boy’ who lived and played dangerously

Published 9:19 am Monday, July 18, 2016

This photo, captured by Elizabethton Star photographers in 1998, shows John Paul Mathes Sr. smiling and waving as he first campaigned for the office of Carter County Circuit Court Clerk. Many remember Mathes standing alongside roads throughout the community holding his sign as he campaigned.

This photo, captured by Elizabethton Star photographers in 1998, shows John Paul Mathes Sr. smiling and waving as he first campaigned for the office of Carter County Circuit Court Clerk. Many remember Mathes standing alongside roads throughout the community holding his sign as he campaigned.

John Paul Mathes, former Carter County Circuit Court Clerk, was laid to rest Friday morning in the Miller Cemetery, a small family cemetery located next to the State Line Drive-In in the Coal Chute community.
Mathes’ roots were firmly planted not just in Valley Forge, where he grew up and attended elementary school, but in Hampton, Dennis Cove, and the Watauga Lake communities, where he lived and spent much of his spare time. These communities were the “playgrounds” of his life.
A legend perhaps to some, John Paul was a very spirited person who celebrated life every day, whether it be as a county officeholder, a car salesman, a campground operator, or just enjoying an evening with friends at the Lone Star or spending a weekend on Dennis Cove mountain with his buddies hunting rattlesnakes and cooking them. He had a knack for attracting “good ole boys” just like him, who relished in being rebels, telling stories, and at times living dangerously.
He was a proud father, and his musician son’s biggest fan. He often traveled far to hear his son, J.P., play the banjo and to support him.
But, there was more to John Paul Mathes than his care-free and rugged spirit. He was a kind man, courteous, and respectful of people who visited the office of Circuit Court Clerk. Those were traits he learned early. He endeared himself to people regardless of their station in life.
An officeholder with tear-filled eyes noted that Mathes showed just as much respect to the most hardened criminal as he did with a minister, congressman, or someone who had it all — money, new car, fine house. “To him, they were all equal. He often said, ‘We came into this world with the same thing — nothing, and will leave with nothing. In that respect, we are all alike.’”
When he first ran for the office of Circuit Court Clerk, Mathes shared how at the age of 29 he wanted to become an elected official. “I also recognized my need to work my way up by winning the respect and support of the people,” Mathes shared in an interview.
He was first elected as a commissioner from the Sixth District, representing the Valley Forge and East Side communities. During his first term he worked hard to familiarize himself with the budget process and the workings of the commission. After four years representing the Sixth District, Mathes moved to Hampton and was elected to the commission from the Fourth District. His goals that term were to get as involved as he could in all aspects of county government. He served on several county committees and made it a point to get to know as many people as possible in his district and in the Elizabethton and Carter County community. Mathes had already set his goals higher.
When he set his sights on the office of Circuit Court Clerk and announced his candidacy, he campaigned vigorously for the office. He conducted a most unusual campaign. For several months he stood at busy intersections around the county, holding a “Vote for John Paul Mathes” sign and waving at motorists. He campaigned during rain storms, on snowy days, and when it was just down right cold. But, it paid off. He beat out eight other contestants in the primary to win the nomination. Mathes was re-elected to the office three terms, serving 16 years in the office before deciding not to seek re-election in 2014.
Mathes was just as much an unorthodox officeholder as he was a candidate. He was more at home in a pair of jeans and cowboy boots than he was in a suit and tie. He often tossed the rule book aside when someone came into his office to seek help or advice. Sometimes it was a mother or father, whose son or daughter was facing time in jail for breaking the law. Other times, it was a friend in trouble with the law. He thought nothing of wrapping his arm around a heart-broken mother, his way of consoling. For friends, he went to bat for them, hoping they would get another chance to redeem themselves. Sometimes, it was just a warm handshake he extended across his desk or the office counter. Mathes’ concern and empathy was sincere and extended far beyond his office.
Friends shared that Mathes was not only kind and loyal, but generous, often dipping into his pocket to share his good fortune with them.
Mathes was a people person. He never tired of being with people. He swapped stories with his friends, enjoyed a drink with them, hunted and fished with them, and was always the life of the party. “When John Paul was around, there were no dull moments,” a former co-worker shared.
The former clerk did his job to the best of his ability, and when he left office he shared that he had no regrets. Once he left office, he invested his resources into his campground at Hampton and began a tree-trimming business. Oddly, his death was the result of a tree falling on him during a ferocious thunderstorm a week ago. His wife, Robin, was also killed during the storm. They had only been married a short time when death cut their lives short.
Prior to being elected Circuit Court Clerk, Mathes had his own used car business — J.P. Mathes Motors. He learned early the value of hard work and of being a salesman.
He sold himself to this community. Thursday evening, the community turned out in force to pay their respects to John Paul, one of their own, and to his wife, Robin. To some, he was a friend, to others, just an acquaintance. His friends ranged from the down and out to the most prominent business people in Carter County.
For sure, he left his mark not only on family and friends, but on this community. He proved that if you want something bad enough, you can have it, but you must work for it. He enjoyed life, his family and friends, and the outdoors.
John Paul Mathes was only 60 years old when his life tragically came to an end, but, in that lifetime he crammed a lot of living. You could say, he barreled down the highway of life with the throttle wide open.

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