COVINGTON -- Connie Waller has the good fortune of retiring from her nearly three-decade career as executive director of Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful with a lot of good memories and no regrets.
Waller, whose retirement was effective Nov. 2, said she's confident that it's time to move on, though she'll miss the daily interaction with community members and volunteers.
"The people have been my favorite part of the job. I've met so many people from all walks of life and made so many good friends," she said. "Volunteers are the greatest -- they are such selfless people. I just cherish all the relationships I've been able to nurture through the years."
Waller intends to stay active in the community, but for now, she'll just be focusing on taking care of herself after suffering a stress-related heart attack over the summer. The event was a wake-up call for Waller, who is a breast cancer survivor, to be a bit gentler with herself.
"That's my main goal right now is to nurture good health," she said.
Waller and her husband, David, moved to Covington in 1982 to be closer to David's job in Atlanta. Shortly after, her neighbor, Martha Taylor, who was leaving her position as director for what was then known as the Clean Community Commission, recommended Waller take her place. She was hired on the spot by the late Roy Varner, who was then chairman of the Board of Commissioners.
"He said, 'Now Connie, just plant a seed. Don't expect too much too soon. Just plant a seed.' I've been planting seeds for 28 years, and I believe it has made a difference," Waller said.
Waller had previously been a teacher and she found that leading the organization that eventually became Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful combined two of her loves: teaching and environmental issues.
KCNB is a nonprofit organization and affiliate of Keep America Beautiful and Keep Georgia Beautiful. The organization's mission is to challenge, motivate and inspire everyone to take responsibility for a clean and beautiful community by focusing on litter prevention, beautification and community programs, waste reduction and recycling and water conservation and water pollution prevention.
Waller said she never thought it was her responsibility to pick up after people.
"Our goal is for us to all develop a sense of personal responsibility to prevent litter from being there in the first place," she said.
Her greatest joy is that Newton County schoolchildren know all about KCNB through the organization's educational programs.
"I love to see the kids get involved and really show they care," she said, noting that children have played an important role in spreading KCNB's message by taking information about recycling home to their parents.
She's also enjoyed a job that has proven to be anything but predictable.
"You might be on a garbage truck one day and in the governor's office the next," Waller noted.
KCNB has met with challenges during the last few years, as state funding has dried up and the county has drastically cut the organization's budget. Historically, the county and city of Covington have split funding for the program, but now the city is requesting the county take complete control. Despite all this, Waller said she's optimistic about the future of KCNB, noting she has been assured by the county commission chairman that her position will be filled.
"I think the community sees the benefit," of the organization, she said.
As for what she'll do with the next phase of her life, Waller intends to pursue new hobbies -- guitar lessons and yoga -- and enjoy some old ones, too. She and her husband are world travelers and next want to visit the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.
She also intends to spend more time with family, especially her daughter Marilee and her husband Chris Meadows, their two children, Benjamin, 6, and Abigail, 5; and her son Jordia, his wife Key and their children Pearson, 3, and Treutlen, 3 months.
"I have no regrets. I feel like I've had the most wonderful career anybody could ever have. I've met wonderful people, I've taken on some challenges and as a group I believe we've made a difference," she said. "I'm leaving just very, very happy. I look forward to everything life has to offer."