Thomas passes the gavel
by Paisley Boston
Apr 26, 2014 | 4055 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bolivar County Youth Court Judge Gwendolyn Thomas is hanging up her robe.

Thomas sits in her office with all of her memorabilia neatly packed in boxes and her calendar flipped to the month of May for her successor, Hunter Nowell.

Parting for Thomas is 'bitter, sweet' because she has served as the Youth Court

Judge since 2002.

"I have enjoyed working with each and every entity in Bolivar County. I am going to miss working for the county," said Thomas in a settling tone.

"My doctor recommended that I stop working in October and after a recent visit to the doctor, I have decided to retire. This is for the interest of my health," she added.

Thomas said she plans to continue to do all that she can as a citizen of Bolivar County.

"It has been an honor to work with young men and women to try to make their lives better because many of them desperately need supervision and attention," she added.

Bolivar County Supervisor James McBride said Thomas would be truly missed.

"It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Judge Thomas. She has always been a very dedicated individual and highly instrumental in the county," said McBride.

Sheriff Kelvin Williams said, "I would like to wish Judge Thomas well. We have known each other for a while. I was initially acquainted with Judge Thomas when I worked as a school resource officer."

"I am going to miss her. Anyone who has ever worked Judge Thomas, knows the type of person that she is," said Williams.

According to Thomas, she never had intentions of becoming a judge.

"When I was asked to become a judge, I was stunned. I was not sure whether or not I could do it but I took the job and I was successful. I worked for the city of Rosedale from 1980 to 1993 and in 1991 I was asked to become a Family Master for Child Support Cases," said Thomas.

"I had been in the youth court system prior to this, I served as the Youth Court Referee for Judge John Valentine. Whenever he was away I would hear cases for him. I also represented the interest of children during that time," she added.

"Once my husband was elected Youth Court Judge in 1990 and took the bench in 1991, it meant that I could no longer serve because it would have been an conflict of interest," said Thomas.

She said her first job as a judge was in 1980 when she was appointed to serve as the city judge in Rosedale.

Though she was a bit reluctant about taking the job, Thomas said she took on the task with enthusiasm.

"I think I became a judge because I wanted to have the opportunity to not only continue serving people but I also wanted to have a chance to sit on the bench to be impartial and treat all people alike regardless of color," she added.

"I wanted people to know that I was not going to let all of the sorrows that I had gone through cause me to be a mean and unjust individual," said Thomas.

Though she enjoyed her career, Thomas said her dream was to become a lawyer.

"My father use to always tell people that I was going to be a lawyer, even before I went to law school," she said.

"I grew up in Selma, Alabama during the era when there were water fountains marked 'colored' or 'white.' My mother use to hold my hand tightly when we walked down the streets or whenever we went in stores because she knew that I would probably do something that would or could possibly get me in trouble," she continued.

"My father use to drive a cab at night. He was pulled over by a young white cop that said to him, 'Boy move that car along.' I looked at my father and said to him, 'Daddy, why did he call you a boy?' He then responded by saying, 'That's just the way things are but you can do something to change that by becoming a lawyer,"' said Thomas as she recollected on her childhood.

She said she would ask her father questions everyday about lawyers because she was determined to become one.

When she was in the fifth grade, her father gave her a book that changed her life.

"He gave me a book that pretty much outlined what I would be for the rest of my life. The name of the book was Les Miserable by Victor Hugo. My daddy had read it more than once and he told me that is was time that I had it. It was about the struggles of the main character who only had one loaf of bread to feed his children," said Thomas.

"It was a beautiful story with beautiful characters and I have read it more than once. I still have the book that my father gave me," she added.

Although her father wanted her to become a lawyer, she said her father's death did cause her to become discouraged about her goal.

"When my father died, I did not care much about anything. I quit the job that I was working at that time and I only cared about having enough money to pay my $91 rent," she added.

Her father died while she and her family were living in Cleveland, Ohio.

"He was going upstairs of a building and when he reached the second floor, he lost his balance and fell out of a window on the second floor. The ironic part about my father's death was that there were two boys walking by the building as he was falling out of the window," said Thomas as she explained the details of her father's death.

"This was ironic because these were mischievous boys that were out at night during a blizzard. These boys were much like the ones that I have worked with. They thought that my father was a black bag. They ran to look in the bag to see what was in it but they soon found out that it was a man in a black coat," she continued.

Thomas said her father experienced a great deal of pain before his death but he was able to mumble a few words to the boys that saw him fall out of the window.

"He was able to tell them to look in the breast pocket of his coat for a little black book. The book contained my phone number. The boys notified the police and my father was rushed to the hospital. I am glad that they were passing by because he probably would have frozen to death," she added.

Thomas said at the time she was attending college during the day and sometimes at night.

When she arrived home from school the telephone rang, it was the hospital.

"They told me what happened and that my father only had a few minor injuries. I decided to wait until the next day to go to the hospital because it was a blizzard and the roads were hazardous," said Thomas

"It would have taken me four hours to get there and back," she added.

Thomas said she decided to go to school before visiting her father in the hospital because the doctor said her father was doing well but while sitting in class, a security guard walked into the room and requested her attention.

"I went to pick up my sister and we proceeded to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital, we saw a nurse and we told her that we were looking for Clarence Turner Jones. She then yelled to another nurse, 'Show these two ladies to the room of the gentleman that just expired.' My sister fainted in my arms,"' said Thomas.

"The nurse said, 'They called a code blue on him this morning and no matter what the doctors did, he just didn’t seem to have the will to live.' That tore me up really bad,"' she added.

Thomas said the most influential individuals in her life were her mother, Carrie Louise Jones-Hunter; father, Clarence Turner Jones and the doctor that sent her and her sisters to Catholic school, Dr. Isabel Schmitz-Dumont.

"As a child, I attended Catholic school. My mother worked for Dr. Dumont, she paid for us to go to school. I started Catholic school when I was five years old and I continued to go up until I was eighth grade. After eighth grade I then went to a Catholic boarding school in Louisiana," said Thomas.

She said her parents divorced when she was 16 years old because her father lost his job and was unable to support them.

"They did not get a divorce because they did not love each other, this was the only way that my mother could receive a raise. At the time, my mother worked for Dr. Dumont," continued Thomas.

"My father had been laid off from his job and the only way that my mother could receive a raise was if she divorced my father. Dr. Dumont required this because she refused to assist a woman who was married with children. My father was suppose to be the primary provider," she added.

"She was already putting my sisters and I through school and she said that my father should have found another job to support us. Although my mother loved my father, she needed more support and she was forced to divorce my father," said Thomas.

Thomas attended Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C.

"I went to law school day and night. I never dreamed of becoming a judge. Although, while in law school we were told that any lawyer would ultimately want to become a judge whether they would ever admit it or not," added Thomas.

"They told us that 'A' students in law school become professors, 'B' and 'C' students become practicing lawyers who are not afraid to get out and hang up their shingles," she continued.

While attending college, she met her husband, Kenneth Thomas.

"Kenneth and I have been married since 1977. He asked me to marry him on Labor Day and I said "yes." We got married in Cleveland, Ohio. We spent our honeymoon in Kentucky," she added."

Thomas said she remains mindful of the promise her husband made to her in his marital proposal.

"He said, 'There are several of our male classmates smarter than me, but if you will marry me, I will make you happier than any of their wives will ever be. I will take you wherever I go, you will do whatever I do you and we will be happy together,"' said Thomas.

"He did not tell me he was going to take me to Mississippi, nor did he tell me that I would become a judge. Fortunately, both of these things have happened and I would not change a thing about either one of them," she added.

Thomas said she is thankful to have such a wonderful husband because he has had a major influence on her life and career choices.

"At one point, I thought about joining the Army. I had been accepted into the United States Army Judge Advocate Generals but I met my husband and decided not to pursue a career in the Army," said Thomas.

Although Thomas's presence will be missed on the bench, she said she would spend her free time collecting some of her tangible memories and reserving them for her daughter, Elyse Cleora Thomas.

"I intend to completely sort through all of my files and papers – I want to organize everything. I plan to discard things that are no longer necessary and keep a few things that my daughter may like to have one day," she said.

"I will be doing a lot of scrapbooking. I also intend to do some work on my house," continued Thomas.

She said she also plans to continue serving in her community endeavors such as the Heritage Commission, Bologna Performing Arts Center advisory board, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Council of Negro Women and the Rotary Club of Cleveland.