An off-white cowboy hat hung on a commissioners’ bench microphone as James Stringer, 72, joked that he’d been “ … fired more times than anyone else up here.”

Friends and colleagues gathered in the courtroom to send-off the longtime Precinct 1 commissioner and former county judge. 

“I’ve known James for 25 years or more,” said District Attorney John Kimbrough. “And I can tell you this without any question. He has been the county employees’ best friend. He’s done so much to look after the wages and benefits of the employees … That’s one thing he should get a lot of credit for.”

Some people call him “Stick,” a name he got from his baseball days in the early ‘50s, having hit more than a few home runs then. He mostly played outfield, but in the Army had stints with few third bases.

“I’ve served with Commissioner Stringer for six years,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Owen Burton. “He’s a great guy to serve with. He had the same friendly face every time you saw him and always voted his convictions.” 

Stringer said he’s always tried to live his life with the philosophy that if one door closes, the Lord opens another. The self-described “cat person” said he has three at home and feeds a good number of others around his rental properties. Nine months ago, he and wife Jackie lost their favorite cat, “Princess,” who ran away and never came home.

“We loved her, she was our baby,” Stringer said.

Still, with more than 50 rent houses to look after, Stringer said, “We’ll stay very busy. I’m sure we will.”

“I’ve known him for years, I’ve known his family,” said Pinehurst Mayor T.W. Permenter. “Matter of fact, his brother lives over close to me. We just enjoy him and I know he’s going to be missed in Orange County.”

Stringer began his political career in 1969, serving as a justice of the peace until the mid-’70s.

“When you take an oath of office, that means that you don’t back down,” he said. “You stand up for the people, you stand up for the taxpayers and you stand up for the employees … I hope that the guy who follows me will stand up for you folks like I tried to.”

Stringer, who lost in the recent primary election to pharmacist and pharmacy consultant David Dubose, said that while no longer in office he still wanted to do what he could to help Hurricane Ike victims.

“We’ve got a terrible, terrible situation. We’ve got people hurting, we’ve got people starving. We’ve got people living in cars, we’ve got people living in tents,” he said, then quoted a Biblical passage, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound mind.”

Stringer told longtime friend and 128th District Court Judge Pat Clark he once decorated the latter’s office with Aggie paraphernalia (Clark’s a UT fan) and stuck a Republican bumper sticker on his car. “I did that,” Stringer said. “But those are the only ones I’ll admit to.”

Clark got a few jokes in as well: “My son that lives in Spring called, and I said, ‘I’m going to have to be leaving because I’ve got to go to a retirement for James Stringer.’ And he said, ‘Hasn’t he already retired?’ And I said, ‘There’s a lot of people out there in the last election that thought he did.’

“I do take a moment to say that I feel that James has always been good for Orange County. He has always done his best for Orange County. And I know that I along with people in this room will miss James quite a bit … [Those were] times that the folks could really be proud of.”