WINTERS — On Saturday, July 21, Runnels County Judge Barry Hilliard was announced as the winner of the 2018 award for the Preservation of County History from the Runnels County Historical Commission at its third annual awards dinner, held in the Rock Hotel in Winters.
Hilliard was recognized for his efforts in the restoration of the Runnels County courthouse.
“We have secured the future of our building for quite some time,” Hillard said as he accepted the honor. Prior to being presented with the award, a true Texas legend, attorney Everett J. “Ebb” Grindstaff, gave a history of the Runnels County court judges beginning with Sylvester Adams in 1880 and ending with current Runnels County Judge, Hilliard, who was first elected in 2011. Grindstaff’s father, E.C. Grindstaff, had been the Runnels County court judge from 1941-51 and Grindstaff was raised in and around the county court. His knowledge is extensive and involved many personal memories of interactions with the judges and court over the years. By relaying the history of the judges and his personal experiences, Grindstaff added a depth to the award presentation that was appreciated by everyone in attendance.
A couple of years ago, Hilliard noticed issues with the mortar while standing outside of the 129-year-old courthouse. He, along with the commissioners’ court, began the process of obtaining estimates and bids for the work to replace the mortar and some stone work. The bids for the work were high so rather than simply accepting the lowest bid and moving forward, Judge Hilliard and the commissioners’ court reevaluated everything involved in the project and once again put the project up for bid. The second round of bids brought in estimates that were less than half of the original bids and they were able to get more work accomplished.
The work was very detailed, not only removing the old mortar but also ensuring the new mortar was the same pH as the old mortar to comply with the state historical commission guidelines. For cleaning the building, they used an environmentally friendly acid. More work was performed to replace windows and doors on the annex building. While a great deal of work has been done, there are plans for even more work in the future.
“I think these are very exciting times for our county,” Hilliard said as he detailed fundraising efforts that led to a new audio-visual system in the courtroom. He wants to get authorization to use the new system in place of a court reporter as it can sometimes be challenging to get a court reporter.
Hilliard was born in Ballinger in 1950. He graduated from high school in 1968 and almost immediately began a life of public service. At the age of 20 he began working for famed Texas sheriff Don Atkins and began a storied career in law enforcement. From there Hilliard moved on to the Midland police department. He was promoted to detective at the age of 23, which was soon followed by a promotion to detective-sergeant. As a detective-sergeant, Hilliard supervised 20 men until 1975 when he took over the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs division. His work took him all over west Texas and he worked hand-in-hand on many operations involving the DEA and Texas Rangers. Through his years in that position information that Hilliard supplied to other agencies resulted in some of the largest drug busts in Texas.
Due to his diligence and selfless work in law enforcement, Hilliard was selected by Congressman George H. Mahon to attend the FBI national academy in Quantico, Virginia. After graduation, he was promoted to the major crime unit where he stayed until 1981, when he moved back home to take care of the family ranch. However, his move back home did not end his law enforcement career. Shortly after moving back home he took a position working for Sheriff Baird and worked there a few more years. After taking some time off from law enforcement he was elected as the constable for Precinct 2. Not one to rest on his laurels, Hilliard ran for and was elected county judge in 2011.
Hilliard’s career has crossed the span of law enforcement from local to federal and back. His involvement in his community extends beyond the walls of his courtroom, as shown by his efforts at the restoration of the county courthouse.
“I’ll treasure this the rest of my life,” Hilliard said after being presented the Runnels County Historical Commission award by commission chairperson Beverly Teplicek and Randall Cooper.
Hilliard has no intention of slowing down and has plans for even more projects in the future.