Remembering Somerset's five-term mayor

FILE I CJ

A.A. "Sandy" Offutt served as Somerset's mayor for 20 years. He was the city's last part-time mayor.

With Somerset a mini-metropolis; with the mayor's office housed in the glass-bedecked, palatial Somerset Energy Center; with long lines often outside his door, it's hard to imagine this then a third-class city and now a busy, busy home-rule city, being governed by a part-time mayor.

Part-time status in the mayor's office was after "Leggs" Norfleet and before Jesse Wilson, Dearl Whitaker, Smith Vanhook, JP Wiles, Eddie Girdler and Alan Keck. A.A. "Sandy" Offutt served as mayor of Somerset for 20 years. His day job was owner and operator of Offutt Insurance Agency. Offutt's office was a cubbyhole in a honeycombed city hall, formerly a car dealership headquarters.

"Somerset has no need for a full-time mayor," Offutt insisted. He would go by city hall on the way to work each morning, sign whatever papers needed signing and be on his way to his insurance agency.

A.A. "Sandy" Offutt was a good mayor. He was reelected five times. He led Somerset during a period when its industrial growth reached a crescendo -- Lear Siegler, Crane Company and others located in and near the Queen City of the Cumberlands. Offutt was Mr. Somerset.

Some said the influx of industry to this southern Kentucky town at the time was to escape unionization in the North. That may be partly true, but a major part of this community's success in attracting industrial plants was Offutt's "what you see is what you get" attitude. He was known to have walked out of industrial meetings with a "you've got to be kidding" reaction to what he considered unreasonable requests by industrial tycoons.

They were impressed by Offutt's feeling of independence and liked his in-your-face attitude. They were intrigued by Offutt's Somerset. They established their businesses here.

Offutt was probably the best loved mayor in Somerset's history. He had a crusty personality that endeared him to both friend and foe. His reaction to a greeting was unique:

"How are you "Sandy?"

"Why do you care? You're not a doctor." He'd wait for a reaction, and respond with an infectious grin.

Offutt had no tolerance for long-winded speakers. A local educator, speaking to the Somerset Kiwanis Club, droned on and on, long past the traditional 15-minute limit on Kiwanis speakers. Then was the golden age of civic clubs; some 40-50 Kiwanians attended every Thursday night. This particular meeting was in the Sky Room of the former Somerset Lodge.

"Sandy" got up, slammed his chair against the table, walked to the stairway leading to the first floor, turned around and in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, remarked: "You're the dumbest (human) I ever heard."

This reporter, quoting a frustrated utterance by Offutt during a city council meeting, got Sandy a dressing down by his dear wife, a very good and religious person, when she read the off-color remark in the Commonwealth Journal.

Next morning, the newspaper scribe got a verbal spanking from the mayor at city hall. It didn't matter. Unless gruffly greeted by Offutt one thought the mayor was angry.

Offutt had unusual patience. As Kiwanis president, he invited a group of out-of-town Kiwanians to give the program at the Kiwanis Club. They talked about a mini-car derby in which their children had participated. One proud father after another talked ... and talked. After about 30 minutes, local Kiwanians started leaving; one at a time, then two at a time, and then in bunches.

Offutt, the last Kiwanian standing, waited patiently on the speakers. When the last one finished, he graciously commended their program presentation. His hard shell was covering for a heart of gold.

Few mayors will serve five terms during this modern day. Offutt was special. He had the confidence of the people of Somerset. His legacy was a stage on which Somerset's booming growth was spawned.