Create a Website Account - Manage notification subscriptions, save form progress and more.
The article below is one in a series called Bristol at Work that profiles employees of the City of Bristol Tennessee. Please follow us on Facebook to see other profiles in this series.
Velma Witte chuckles a little when she describes her “temporary” service as the church pianist at Highpoint Presbyterian Church, noting that she’s been “filling in” every week for more than a decade. Apparently, church leaders realized some time ago that her strong Christian faith and musical talents made her perfect for the role, and she has enjoyed it so much that she’s never thought about leaving.
“I consider myself to be a servant,” she said. “It’s just part of who I am.”
She serves her church community on weekends and Bristol Tennessee community members on weekdays in her role as Executive Secretary to City Manager Bill Sorah. Her full-time job at City Hall comes with dozens of responsibilities – developing agendas for City Council meetings, complying with public notification requirements, drafting proclamations, writing letters, answering calls and questions from the public, sending reminders when new members are needed for the City’s various boards and commissions, and other administrative tasks that keep the City operating smoothly. Her job, she explained, is to make the City Manager’s job easier.
A native of Bristol, Virginia, Velma grew up with her siblings by her side, playing and singing in a family quartet that often performed at homecomings and Saturday night singings throughout the southeast. After graduating from Virginia High School in 1979, she went to work for the American Lung Association of Virginia and remained in that position for just over nine years before becoming a displaced worker. She was married by then and had a young son to care for, but still found time to work part-time – first as a bookkeeper at a local church and later as secretary in the City’s utility services division – while enrolled as a full-time student at Virginia Highlands Community College.
After about 18 months with the City, Velma transitioned into a new role as a full-time secretary for then-Deputy City Manager Bill Sorah and completed her associate’s degree in Business Administration, Through a series of changes in the City’s structure and personnel, she became secretary for the Director of Public Works for a number of years, and when Mr. Sorah’s secretary retired in 2018, she was selected to fill the role as Executive Secretary to the City Manager.
During this time, she also returned to the classroom to complete her education, earning a bachelor’s degree in Computer & Information Sciences from ETSU in 2007.
“It took me 16 years to get the degree, but I was also working full time and raising a son and taking care of elderly parents and in-laws,” she said. “I still managed to graduate magna cum laude.”
She and her husband, Gerry, have now been married 33 years. They’ve raised one son together, but Velma also considers her step-sons – Gerry’s two sons from a previous marriage – and each of their wives to be her children. That makes six in all. Of course, Velma will tell you that the only thing better than being a mother is being a grandmother, and she’s been blessed enough to earn that title five times now. Family keeps her busy, but she also enjoys cooking, photography, and traveling. She and Gerry have traveled to Mexico, seven Canadian provinces, and every state in the continental U.S. except Mississippi and Louisiana. They like camping – old-fashioned, sleeping-in-a-tent camping – and have a bucket list of travel destinations that includes the states they haven’t yet visited, plus Australia and Ireland, her ancestral homeland.
Velma knows a bit about cars, noting that her father made sure she was capable of changing the oil and replacing a flat before she left home, and has a soft spot in her heart for animals. She and Gerry shared their home with a rescue dog for more than 15 years and have even cared for a pet snake or two. Her kindness extends to humans in need, too, through her charitable work with Raceway Ministries and her enrollment in a Liberty University program that is preparing her to be a life coach. She’s always been a friend in need, but now is receiving the formal training that will make her even more effective at helping others reach their goals.
“I just enjoy helping people,” she said. “I like the people I work with and enjoy working with the public. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than serving others.”
A special shout out to Executive Secretary Velma Witte as we celebrate Administrative Professionals Day, a day that recognizes all those who keep our offices organized and running efficiently. Velma’s knowledge, expertise, and incredible attention to detail are tremendous assets to our City and another great example of #BristolAtWork