Monday morning was an unusual one at the Washington County Courthouse because the county’s longest-serving employee was not at her desk in the thick of things in the clerk of courts office.
Barbara Gibbs has a tastefully decorated alcove in the row office where her collection of commissions – documents bearing official seals dating from 1984 – photographs and other memorabilia adorn the walls, but since being elected as the county’s clerk of courts in 1985, she has been a fixture at a utilitarian desk behind the counter and across from a massive rotating file that holds documents from thousands of criminal and other cases.
She wasn’t in her row office because she was recovering after being hit by a car Sunday in the parking lot of a Richeyville church.
State police said Gibbs, 70, of Ellsworth, an eight-term officeholder, was walking toward her car after the morning Mass in the lot of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, 2 Church St., when she was struck and knocked to the ground by a car driven by 82-year-old Susan Ventura of Daisytown, whose vehicle then hit Gibbs’ car and another vehicle that had exited the church lot onto Roxy Street.
Police said Gibbs, who was taken by ambulance to Washington Hospital, suffered moderate injuries. She was transferred to Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, where she was reported in fair condition Monday. Neither Ventura nor the driver of the car on Roxy Street, 74-year-old Margaret Kostial of Brownsville, was injured.
Ventura was charged with careless driving.
Emergency medical personnel from Brownsville and Richeyville responded to the accident.
Although Gibbs was elected clerk of courts in 1983, she has been employed by Washington County since 1961.
“She started to work, literally, right after high school, for the county,” said former commissioner Bracken Burns, who retired and chose not to seek re-election in 2011. “It was a source of irritation because she was there longer than me. She has devoted her entire life to county service.”
Burns dates his career in county government to the 1970s.
“I’ve known Barb most of my life, because I’m from Bentleyville, she’s from Ellsworth,” said President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca.
She recalled that her longtime friend ran for clerk of courts to succeed Metro Petrosky, who was a Democratic nominee for commissioner in 1983. Supporting both was Commission Chairman Frank Mascara, and Gibbs was successful in gaining the nomination from a crowded field with the slogan, “Return Barbara Gibbs to Clerk of Courts.” She had worked for Petrosky’s predecessor in the clerk’s office before taking a position with the Washington County emergency management office.
“She’s a wonderful public servant and runs a very good office,” O’Dell Seneca said. “I’m hoping she recovers very quickly and comes back to us.”
As word spread of Gibbs’ hospitalization, Washington County Director of Administration Scott Fergus echoed the sentiments of many.
“Barb Gibbs is one of the best row officers we have from a great crop of row officers,” he said. “We miss her, and we hope she gets back soon.”