Cooley slowing down, but not retiring
Hillsville icon reflects on 62 years as an attorney, 20 as town’s mayor
After 62 years of practicing law, Raleigh Cooley says it’s time to slow down a little.
“I’m not taking any new cases, just finishing up what’s on the books,” said Cooley, who began his practice in 1951 following his graduation from the William & Mary Law School. “A lot of my contemporaries are dying and, of course, I will too before long.”
Although many attorneys would have retired to play golf, travel or just relax long before reaching their 89th birthday, Cooley said he’s never shied away from work, even when the monetary rewards weren’t that great.
“Some people get nervous around work. Work didn’t scare me,” he said. “I don’t think I ever turned anybody down because they didn’t have the money to pay me. I did a lot of free work, but I’m not complaining. The people in Carroll County, when I started, were a lot poorer than they are now.”
Cooley has been much more than just an attorney to Hillsville though. His 20 years as mayor from 1958 to 1978 is the longest tenure in the history of the office. During that time, Hillsville experienced a great deal of success in industrial growth and public service facilities. During his time as mayor, the population of Hillsville increased from 900 to 2,900.
“I spent a lot of time trying to get industry in Hillsville and provide jobs for our local people. I think that’s my biggest achievement,” said Cooley, who is credited with helping bring Sprague Electric, Mayville, Blue Ridge Woven Label and Burlington to Hillsville, as well as the Hillsville Savings & Loan and Carroll County Bank. Most are still in business, although under different names.
Cooley was also a key player in helping bring water and sewer, as well as other development to the area at the I-77 Interstate exchange.
“We passed a referendum to get water and sewer at Exit 14. Now, all the motels and gas stations we have at the interstate are contributing jobs and employment,” he said. “You can’t get business to come here if you don’t have water and sewer.”
Cooley’s only disappointment is that the development that has taken place at Exit 14 hasn’t happened at the other exits in the county, which he said was due to the failure of the town and county to work together in the past.
“I’ve devoted myself to trying to create harmony between the people of Hillsville, Carroll County, the city of Galax and Grayson County,” said Cooley. “It used to be you couldn’t have a football game between Hillsville and Galax without having a fight. We were able to put bitterness aside, and a lot of good things have come out of that, including the Twin County Regional Airport.”
“We have a much better Christian attitude toward our neighbors and this is a good thing. There’s been harmony and good will toward one another. I like to think I contributed, but others did as well. Anything that benefits Galax will benefit Carroll and Grayson counties and vice versa. And things that help Carroll County help the town of Hillsville,” he added.
“We clearly have better schools, and improved roads and housing, but we’re still a long way to go from where we ought to be.”
Cooley has also see a lot of changes in laws adopted on the local, state and national level.
“There were some that weren’t so good, but most helped the poor people and made better jobs available and improved health care,” he said.
For anyone wishing to study law, Cooley advised “get a good education in the field of law and put your knowledge to use. You don’t get it all in law school, some of it you get after college, and always build good will with people.”
“People have been very nice to me and very appreciative of the work I’ve done for them. I’m thankful I’ve been able to serve the people.”
Even if he decides to completely retire, Cooley said he doesn’t want to lose touch with the people of Hillsville and Carroll County.
“I want to maintain contact with my acquaintances in Hillsville and Carroll County,” he said. “We live in the best place on Earth. I still enjoy our green fields and the mountains, and we have the finest people in the world right here in Carroll County.”
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