Thursday, April 25, 2024

‘A dedicated public servant’

Community pays tribute to late district clerk Tonna Hitt Newman


The Hood County community is mourning the loss of District Clerk Tonna Hitt Newman, who passed away Sunday, Feb. 18, at the age of 64.

Newman was a fixture in the 355th District Court for more than 30 years. Known as the longest-serving elected woman in Hood County government, she was first elected in 1990 and took office Jan. 1, 1991.

According to an article published in the Hood County News Sept. 2, 2020, Newman won the 1990 race for district clerk with 58% of the vote. In doing so, she became the first Republican ever elected to a county-wide office in Hood County with a Democratic opponent.

The election was noteworthy in another sense as well: According to Newman — Hitt at the time — she was elected during a time when the majority of Hood County was blue. She said it was during this election when Hood County swung from blue to red, where it remains today.

Granbury attorney Shelly Fowler said she has known Newman for well over 25 years, adding that Newman received “incredible accolades” during her time as district clerk.

“One thing that she did from a professional standpoint that I really find to be admirable is she discovered that in the government code, they allowed her to add a fee to every divorce petition that was filed, and it went into a fund,” Fowler explained. "It's called an ADR Fund, which stands for alternative dispute resolution, but what it does is it allows those that can't afford mediations to go and get those settled through the fund that she had created. It didn't cost the county anything. It was just something she had found in the government code that by charging $1 per petition, it went into this fund to help those less fortunate, and they could get their cases resolved without spending a ton of money."

Newman was also active in state and national Republican politics, as well as local. Fowler explained that Newman’s favorite picture was one she took with Former President George W. Bush shortly after he was declared the winner in the 2000 presidential election.

“She was a staunch Republican and so she had a great history,” Fowler said. “She was like a delegate to the state convention repeatedly and she was really big in the Republican Party here in Hood County.”

County Court-at-Law Judge Vincent Messina said he has known Newman for nearly 40 years — even before she became Hood County’s district clerk.

“Tonna was a dedicated public servant, active in her statewide association of district clerks and very active in the local Republican Women’s club,” Messina told the HCN. “She was a tireless advocate in bringing the clerk's office into the 21st century regarding electronic record keeping and electronic paperless filing. She loved the Lord, her family and her job in that order and her dedication and enthusiasm will be sorely missed by everyone who knew her.”

Former Hood County District Judge Ralph Walton said he had the pleasure of working with Newman when she was only an intern. He said she walked into his office in the 1980s and asked to work in his law office, as it was a requirement for a class she was taking at the University of Texas at Austin.

"I didn't know her,” Walton said. “She just came to the law office and inquired as to whether or not she could do that, and I said, ‘Well, Tonna, I really don't have any real need for additions to my staff right now, but if you want to be an intern and just work in this office and do whatever odd jobs are necessary without being paid, we can do that.’”

Walton said he asked for her college transcript, and it became evident to him how smart she was. For the next spring semester, Newman worked as an intern for Walton’s office and the pair formed a great relationship.

"I've simply known her ever since,” he said. “Tonna did a good job and was very confident. Of course, she didn’t know a thing about the law, but I think she learned by being exposed to me and my office. She’s a good friend of mine and was very supportive of me when I ran for district judge.”

As the district clerk, Walton said Newman was honorable, capable and did an “excellent job” working for the county.

“The citizens were well represented in the clerk's office because of her temperament and her capabilities,” he said. “It’s a real tragedy that my good friend has passed. I really feel sorry for the family. I just pray for them that they will be able to recover from the tragic loss of a family member. She really did a great job in this community for Hood County as a district clerk and she will be missed.”

On a personal level, Fowler said Newman was “a great person,” and a “special woman.”

"She was just staunchly loyal to her friends and family, and she was giving and caring to all of us and to the community,” she added. “She always wanted to help others. She’s going to be missed. We're all going to miss her terribly."