Whittle retires after decades of election work


Martha Whittle recently completed her final term as Neshoba County Election commissioner, a position she held for just more than two decades.

“I loved the job,” said Whittle, who last year decided not to seek another term. “I liked working with people and working the polls. My granddaughter, Jane Savell Rickles, liked to go to the polls with me on election day, and maybe she’ll run for office one day as well.” 

Whittle said serving as election commissioner was the best job she ever had.

Whittle graduated from Neshoba Central High School in 1965 and worked at Garan Manufacturing for five years and as a sales clerk for approximately 20 years at City Jewelry, which her family owned, before she decided to run for Neshoba County Election Commissioner.

She was elected to the office in 2000, defeating her friend Wendell Jackson of the Bond community. Since then she ran unopposed for every election. 

Whittle said she was inspired to run for the office when the man serving as election commissioner at the time was sick and someone needed to run for the seat. After talking with her husband and friends, Whittle said she was encouraged enough to give it a shot.

During her time in office, her fellow members on the Neshoba County Election Commission appointed her chairman of the election commission from 2010 to 2013, where she had to sign off to make sure all the ballots were in and on schedule during elections.

Now that she is retired, Whittle said she likes to make quilts and T-shirts in her spare time, and she also loves to sew.

Whittle lives with her husband, Jim Whittle, and they have three grown children Deaneen Savell, Joe Whittle and Brian Whittle. They also have eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, with another great-grandchild coming in April. 

Whittle said she loves to vacation with her family. Past vacations include trips to the mountains, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and a cruise to Mexico she took in 2015 with her sister and daughters. She has also been on a mission trip to Honduras in July 2005. She said she hopes to go on another cruise with her granddaughter soon.

Whittle recalled a lot of fun and exciting election nights during her time in office. She said a lot of election nights she and the other workers stayed at the polls as late as 2 a.m.

“We made sure elections were good and clean every time,” she said. “As for memorable elections, all of them have been great. I really can’t pick one that’s more memorable than the other.” 

Whittle said what she will miss most about being in office is the people since those she worked with were like family to her. She said all of the election commissioners were very close to one another and Patti Duncan Lee, Neshoba County Circuit Clerk. 

“Martha has been such a major asset to us and has done so much for the community and the folks of District 2,” Lee said. “When she’s involved, she’s involved all the way and will be there for you if you need her.”

Lee said Whittle has also done a lot for the Election Commissioners Association, including making quilts for their auctions. She’s also helped make masks and gowns for the Neshoba General Hospital. 

“She’s so special to me and the community,” Lee said. “She’s done a fine job and I think everyone appreciates it.” 

Harold Richardson, the current election commissioner for District 3, said he worked with Whittle for 12 years and enjoyed every minute of it. 

“Martha was always busy and one of those people that could not sit down,” Richardson said. “She was always doing something. She did an excellent job and was always very conscientious.”

Whittle said elections, while fun, are also a lot of work. She recalled always making sure the boxes of ballots were canvased after the election was over. Everything needs to be right. She said that it normally works out great, but people need to be prepared to put a lot of hours of work into making sure every vote is accounted for, including absentees, provisionals and affidavits. At the end of the day, she said it was always a good experience for her all the way through. 

“Your vote is sacred, and I’ve always made sure every vote counts,” she said. “No one should know how you voted. You vote the way you want to vote.”

Whittle’s words of advice for anyone looking to run for office are to “be yourself and do your very best.” She said that’s what she did and she always did her absolute best when working. 

“If you want something, go for it,” she said. “You will never regret it. I’ve enjoyed my job, and I’ve made friends in every district. I’m really happy I was able to be of assistance to Neshoba County.”

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