Magistrate Judge Smith given retirement party by family, friends, colleagues

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, December 29, 2015

It was standing room only in the Magistrate Court room Tuesday afternoon when friends and colleagues packed the courtroom to bid farewell to Judge Ralph Smith, who is retiring the end of this week.

Tuesday’s celebration was a double header, as it was also Judge Smith’s birthday.

Several in attendance took advantage of the invitation to stand and recall memories shared with Smith. Many of those were humorous, reflective of Smith’s unique sense of humor.

Email newsletter signup

Paul Medley, former pastor of Bainbridge First Baptist Church, where Smith is a member, told an amusing story. It seems shortly after Medley came to Bainbridge the church had a special Sunday event called Tailgate Party. The congregation was invited to wear their favorite collegiate clothing. Smith arrived in his UGA pajamas, with a rope tied around his waist and dragging a dead Tiger, representative of Medley’s favorite team.

Some speakers took the serious route and referred to the influence Smith had on their lives, how he served as a role model for them, especially in his many years of teaching Sunday School. Others recalled how he always insisted that everyone should be allowed the chance to speak their piece. Law enforcement spokesmen said his interpretation of the law sometimes differed from theirs, but in the end he was always fair, insisting they always do the “right thing.”

A grandson referred to what he called his grandfather’s determination, sometimes called stubbornness. It seems the grandson was at the Smith home and needed a ride home.

Smith had recently had surgery and been told not to drive. He insisted on giving the boy a ride home, over the objections of his wife. He grabbed the keys and started the car, but when they got on the road, he was bent over the steering wheel looking out the windshield and muttering, “Just because I can’t see doesn’t mean I can’t drive.

Judge Smith’s life-time best friend, Wallace Cato, said when they were young, Smith either received a Christmas gift, or a birthday gift four days later, but never both.

Cato felt sorry about it, and when they got a bit older, Cato decided to have a birthday party for Smith. He gave him a card with an ugly face on it and the verse said, “I know how old you are but my lips are sealed.” The card has revolved between the two every subsequent birthday, with new personal notes. The card was still in circulation this year, making an appearance at the reception where all the recorded wishes could be seen.

Smith took the remarks with good nature, at one point saying he didn’t believe any of the stories. Following one of Cato’s stories, Smith pointed to him and said, “That is why I am the way I am.”

Judge Smith stepped down from the bench and greeted everyone following the presentations. The crowd enjoyed cake and punch after singing Happy Birthday.