PRINCETON — For more than 40 years, Roy Compton dedicated his life to serving Mercer County. Wednesday, the public servant formally bid farewell to his magistrate's bench with grace and gratitude to the people he said “backed” him throughout his career.
In his four decades of public service, Compton worked as a constable, justice of the peace, deputy sheriff and magistrate, influencing everyone from Supreme Court of Appeals justices to the people who might have fallen through the judicial system's cracks if not for his compassion and alert vigilance.
Wednesday, Compton's many friends, family members and supporters gathered for a retirement celebration in his honor.
Circuit Judge Derek Swope said he got to know Compton when the retiring magistrate served as a deputy and the young lawyer often got called out for arraignments during late nights and early mornings. It was then when Swope saw the warm heart and understanding spirit that thrived behind Compton's badge.
“Roy Compton was one of the most compassionate human beings that I ever have seen,” Swope said. “…I watched the compassion that this guy had for what we called 'the least, the last and the lost.'”
The circuit judge said Compton served as an inspiration to him and everyone who worked with him, primarily because of his wisdom, tempered with humanity and an unusual knack for diffusing tense, potentially dangerous situations.
“That's a commodity that's hard to exercise,” Swope said, closing his remarks by wishing his friend good luck and Godspeed.
Sheriff Don Meadows became acquainted with Meadows when both men patrolled the streets to protect and serve. As a young law enforcement officer, Meadows said he looked around at various organizations to see what people did and how they completed their tasks at hand.
“You didn't have to look around to see what Roy did. He worked,” Meadows said, explaining that Compton would arrive at work at the beginning of each shift, pick up his warrants, and, “You wouldn't see him in the office again until he'd brought somebody in under arrest.”
In one particular instance, Meadows said Compton set his sights on a female suspect with 96 active warrants. For weeks, Compton searched for the woman, but he couldn't locate her. Then, Meadows ran upon her by chance and brought her in.
“I thought he was going to cry,” Meadows said. “He wanted those 96 arrests, and I told him he could have them. That's the kind of guy he was. He worked all the time.”
Most of all, Meadows expressed his appreciation for Compton's friendship.
Magistrate Mike Flanigan recalled Compton as a magistrate who served as a mentor and never required a gavel to restore order inside his court. Instead, he slapped his hand on his desk to get the attention of people in his courtroom.
“When that hand came down on his desk, everybody would raise about three inches off the floor. He had their attention,” Flanigan said, praising Compton's wisdom and generous spirit.
“Roy Compton is one of those people who absolutely made it his goal to make Mercer County a better place to live,” Flanigan said.
Like many other speakers Wednesday, Circuit Judge William Sadler said Compton's legacy of proud service established as a model of good citizenship.
He said Compton set one of the best examples of an exemplary life he had ever encountered.
In addition to local officials, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Justice Brent Benjamin and Deputy Administrator Kathleen Moore joined Janie Moore, director of the Division of Magistrate Court Services, in honoring Compton's impressive career of public service.
In addition to several plaques and framed certificates of appreciation, Circuit Judge Omar Aboulhosn presented Compton with a certificate signed by Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declaring Compton a Distinguished Mountaineer and another certificate of appreciation on behalf of the West Virginia Senate.
Compton humbly thanked the audience on hand inside Sadler's crowded courtroom. He said they were many of the people who “backed” him over the years and made his work possible.
“I've worked with them all, and I love them all,” Compton said after the ceremony. “I've done everything I could to keep generations in line.”
— Contact Tammie Toler at firstname.lastname@example.org.