First Smith County Probate Auditor set to retire

Smith County Probate Auditor Lynn McGinnis (Photo Courtesy of Smith County)

Smith County’s first ever Probate Auditor, Lynn McGinnis, will be wrapping up a more than three-decade-long career at the end of December.

Lynn was hired in 1983, by then County Clerk Mary Morris. Although Lynn was 19 years old when she applied for the county job, she grew up in and around the courthouse.

Lynn’s father, Roland “Larry” Matthews, was an attorney, and Lynn accompanied him many times on trips to the county seat. Every Christmas season, Lynn would go with her mother, Annette, and little brother, Lawrence, to help Matthews deliver beautiful handmade cookie trays to the County Clerk and District Clerk’s offices.

As her Dad’s “Saturday morning girl” at his law office in Troup, Lynn was no stranger to the courthouse when she walked in one day and applied for the position of deputy probate clerk. Under the watchful eye of Ms. Morris, Lynn learned the workings of the clerk’s office, specifically the probate section.

After serving for several years under the county clerk, in 1989, then County Judge Larry Craig created a position in the County Court for a probate auditor. Aware of Lynn’s experience in probate law, Judge Craig, with Ms. Morris’ blessing, asked Lynn to fill the new spot. Since there had never been a probate auditor for the County Court before, Judge Craig simply told Lynn to “handle it.” And that she did.

Lynn honed her new skills by attending several college courses and countless continuing legal education courses and earned her Certified Paralegal certification.

Since then, Lynn has been instrumental in the success of the Smith County Court. She has streamlined many of the processes, resulting in a reduced overall budget for the County Court.

Lynn has mentored many other legal assistants and has been very active in the Tyler Area Association of Legal Professionals, prompting her peers to name her the TAALP Legal Professional of the Year in 2004. Lynn was also recognized by the Tyler Junior College Legal Assistant Program for giving several probate-related lectures and courthouse tours to many of the programs’ classes.

Throughout the years, Lynn has been called upon by countless members of the legal community in Smith County and across Texas for assistance in dealing with the sometimes complicated processes of bringing a probate matter before the court.

She was instrumental in the success of numerous ad litem attorney seminars conducted for the Smith County Bar Association. The legal community recognized and honored Lynn’s ever helpful approach in 2005, when the Smith County Bar Association presented her with its distinguished Liberty Bell Award.

During her career, Lynn has worked for six county court judges -- the Hon. Bob Hayes, Hon. Randall Rogers, Hon. Larry Craig, Hon. Becky Dempsey, Hon. Joel P. Baker, and the Honorable Nathanial Moran. Each of these jurists brought their own style to the court, and Lynn adapted to each one in stride.

She has always appreciated all of the county judges who had the confidence in her ability to run an efficient, cost-effective court operation, and for giving her relatively free rein to sculpt the workings of the court into the well-oiled machine she leaves behind as a big part of her legacy.

As the chair of Smith County’s Juvenile Board, each judge also entrusted Lynn with the responsibility of acting as secretary for the Juvenile Board, taking minutes of the meetings and keeping the board’s records. As if that were not enough responsibility, Lynn was also recently tasked with coordinating interpreter requests for all Smith County District Courts, County Courts at Law, Juvenile Courts and Justice of the Peace Courts.

Lynn demonstrated her love for her county home and family by often going well above and beyond her regular day-to-day duties. Volunteering for countless projects that had nothing to do with her “normal” duties earned her recognition from the Smith County Peace Officers Association in 2006 for her hard work on the Smith County Clean-Up Committee.

Lynn loves these “special projects,” and has been very devoted to the daunting task of ferreting out unused items, surplus property, and “junk” from the Smith County “attic.” Often with zero budget dollars, Lynn utilized county employee volunteers, community service individuals and trustee inmate labor to save Smith County thousands of dollars.

For her efforts on the Clean-up Committee and her dedication to her court and Smith County, she was awarded the county’s highest honor in 2009, when she was named Smith County Employee of the Year.

Lynn has made countless friends over the years, but especially acknowledges the many local attorneys who have stepped up to assist the court when it needed to ensure competent legal representation for a proposed ward or minor child.

One of the most rewarding aspects of her career was the many lifelong friendships she made with the parents, grandparents and court appointed guardians of these children and intellectually challenged adults. Lynn has watched many of these children, who are wards of the court, grow up and thrive.

“I’ll miss all the letters, postcards and pictures I get from these special needs kids and adults,” she said. “I’ll always remember all the special accomplishments, both big and small, they have shared over the years. It means so much to me that they want to share these moments with me.”

Smith County not only provided Lynn a career, it also provided her a husband and a family.

She met her future husband in the former Commissioner’s Courtroom, located in the Smith County Courthouse.

Bill McGinnis was administrative assistant to the county judge and commissioners, and Lynn took the minutes for the court each Monday as one of her extra duties. Soon the two were wed by Judge Craig and have been married for 26 years.

As Judge Craig used to laugh and say, “I tied the knot really tight!”

Lynn and Bill’s two girls, Heather and Adriann, grew up around the courthouse just like she did. They didn’t follow Lynn’s legal footsteps, but have grown up and excelled in their own careers. They have also given Lynn and Bill seven grandchildren.

Lynn will miss her Smith County family and all those she has come to know through her lengthy career as probate auditor. But after nearly 34 years behind the desk and the bench, she is eager to close this chapter of her life and begin a new one with Bill, her French Bulldog Beaux, as well as spend more time with her grandkids. They plan to hit the pavement and do some long overdue traveling.

Retiring will also give Lynn more time to devote to the other passion in her life -- the nonprofit organization, Therapet Animal Assisted Therapy.

Lynn is entering a new era in her life, but it’s pretty much a sure thing that she can “handle it.”

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