Claybar named The Record ‘Person of the Year’
William Brown Claybar is the CEO of a family funeral home corporation that has grown in the 30 years he has been leading it. Often, that business takes a backseat to the community.
The Orange native has served for years on the West Orange-Cove CISD board of trustees and then on the Orange City Council. The past nine years he’s served as Orange Mayor.
The hours he has spent on work for the school board or city council could never be calculated. It’s priceless.
Some of his decisions have been controversial and cost him business as individuals and groups boycotted his funeral homes because they disagreed with him.
He suffered a serious heart attack and then underwent bypass surgery a few years ago but kept serving as mayor, even with the stress, because he had goals he wanted to accomplish.
As the waters from Hurricane Ike flooded two of his funeral homes, he spent his time on city business and personally rescued people from flooded homes and apartments.
For all these reasons, The County Record newspaper has named Claybar as 2011 Citizen of the Year. This is an honor he can carry as he moves into his last year as City of Orange Mayor.
Claybar, 59, was born in Orange to Lannie and Marjorie Claybar. Lannie had started the Claybar Funeral Home in Orange in 1946, before Brown was born. Lannie also set an example for public service. His work in the community included serving on the school board. Unfortunately, Lannie died in 1969. Brown’s older brother, David, took over the funeral home.
The future mayor is a graduate of the old Lutcher Stark High School and Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches. He moved back to Orange and took over operations of the family business.
During the years the Claybar funeral home business grew and expanded into Bridge City and Beaumont. Claybar acquired the old Fuller Funeral Home in Orange.
The company now also runs the Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery in Orange, Orange Forest Lawn Cemetery in West Orange, and Haven of Rest Crematory and Cemetery in Beaumont. Claybar Floral Shop is in Beaumont. Claybar is in partnership in the Carroway-Claybar funeral homes in Lufkin and Huntington.
Brown Claybar was elected to the West Orange-Cove CISD in the early 1980s and served for more than a decade, including several years as president of the board. During his time as president, the school district passed a bond issue to combine West Orange-Stark High School into one campus.
For nearly 15 years after the old Stark High and the old West Orange High combined in the 1970s, the school had two campuses. The ninth and tenth grades went to the old Stark Campus on Green Avenue in Orange while the eleventh and twelfth grades went to the old West Orange campus on Newton Street in West Orange. Buses transported students who had classes on both campuses during the day.
Then in the 1990s, Claybar chose not to run again for the school board. He later ran for the Orange City Council and served as a councilman. He took a break from the City Council for a couple of years and then ran successfully for mayor in 2002. He’s served ever since.
Claybar pushed to make the City of Orange grow and expand. The goal moved the city to annex north to the Little Cypress area, including several subdivisions with upscale houses and prominent people.
Hundreds of people were angry about the annexation. They opposed the move and formed an anti-annexation group that sued the City of Orange. The suit was eventually settled.
People also quit taking their business to Claybar Funeral Home.
The Little Cypress contingency ran a candidate for mayor against Claybar in 2008, the first year the area could vote in the city elections. Claybar held off the challenge and won re-election.
Not only has Claybar faced angry people, he has also faced angry Mother Nature. He led the city in its recovery from Hurricane Rita in 2005 and then from Hurricane Ike in 2008. His experience helped him earn a spot on Governor Rick Perry’s Commission on Disaster Recovery and Renewal.
Most recently, he oversaw a City Charter change for single-member representation on the council to help assure minority representation on the council.
Claybar has one year left to serve as mayor before the city’s term limitations prevent him from running again. But he still has a lot of work to finish.
For years, he has wanted to renew Downtown Orange to draw more business and people.
The city now has a schedule for construction of a landscaped river walk and park areas.
Construction is expected to begin in September.