By CHRIS AGEE
Colleagues, friends and family packed the 29th Judicial District Courtroom Friday to wish Judge Jerry Ray a happy retirement.
The general public was invited to the reception, which included comments from those who worked closest to Ray during his 12 years as district judge.
Following several speakers and gift presentations, District Attorney Mike Burns spoke directly to Ray, expressing a fondness for his time on the bench.
"I don't have a plaque or a gift to give you," he said, "but what I have to give you is my eternal thanks as a member of the bar for making me a better lawyer and making me a better person."
In preparation of the event, county commissioners approved a proclamation naming Friday "Judge Jerry D. Ray Day," and Ray used the opportunity to share some memories from his career.
"I've been practicing law for 40 years," he said. "I've been here at the courthouse working for you for 20 of those. You can't have the kind of career I've enjoyed without a host of people."
Ray named a number of important support staff members and his wife, Bonnie, who helped and encouraged him along the way.
He recalled the event that steered his career path toward law. After accepting a physically demanding summer job during high school, Ray said he soon said to himself, "I'm going to college. I'm going to get a degree and be a professional person. I quit slinging that sledgehammer and went to college."
He said his initial intent was to become a doctor, but he struggled with one particular subject in college.
"I was in pre-med and I wanted to be a doctor and they had this darn silly rule," he said. "In order to be a doctor in the state of Texas, you have to pass organic chemistry."
In response to that requirement, Ray said he switched majors and "became a doctor of jurisprudence."
During eight years as district attorney and 12 as judge, Ray said he has handled about 19,500 cases in Palo Pinto County and credited the hard work of his support staff for his successes. He also said his predecessors set the stage for an effective local court system.
"The district judges of the 20th century and then my moving into the 21st century, the shortest period of time on the bench I think was 10 years," he said. "There's been stability in this court."
Of his career, Ray said he has realized "judging is something that involves not just being scholarly." He said his upbringing taught him two attributes needed by any effective judge.
"I was prepared adequately for the courtroom by my parents," he said. "My daddy taught me discipline – oh, did he teach me discipline – and my mama taught me compassion and I found a good helping of both is useful. In some cases you need and must give people a piece of your mind; in other cases you have to give them a piece of your heart."
As Santo attorney Mike Moore prepares to take over as district judge, Ray acknowledged his successor with some good-natured ribbing.
He recalled a recent incident just before he left to attend an event in Mineral Wells.
"Several people descended upon my office and said, 'The new judge is getting new paint and new carpet and a new computer and we need to measure,' and they kind of kicked me to the curb," he said. "Judge Cleveland was OK with the paint and carpet for 16 years and I've been OK with it for 12 years, now all of a sudden the new guy gets new paint and new carpet."
Ray also joked Burns is preparing him for retirement.
"I started noticing the district attorney's office that is responsible for printing the court orders, the judgements a the end of a case, started handing me orders to sign. It said, I kid you not, 'Signature line: Presiding Judge Mike Moore," Ray recalled.
Ray, who did not seek re-election, will continue to serve as district judge until his term expires Dec. 31.