Retirement reception held for county judge
By LYNETTE SOWELL
A cross-section of county residents, local elected officials along with representatives from Fort Hood turned out on Monday afternoon for a retirement reception for Coryell County Judge John Firth at the commissioners courtroom in Gatesville.
Firth, who took office as an appointed judge in 2007 after Riley Simpson passed away, was elected to two successive terms but did not seek reelection in 2018.
Among those who recognized Firth were Representative J.D. Sheffield of the 59th Texas legislative district, and Don Nicholas, representing Congressman Roger Williams. Firth was presented with flags which flew over the Texas capitol building as well as the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Prior to Firth taking the floor, several local officials spoke about the retiring county judge.
Col. Hank Perry, garrison commander of Fort Hood, had the chance to speak.
“I want to thank you for your community support. I have felt it, just in my 18 months here in this position. Not only are you a staunch supporter of Fort Hood, you’re also helping with sponsoring the multimodal rail facility study,” Perry said. “We’re looking at how we can help with additional commerce in this area, which will benefit everybody. I know Gen. Funk is excited about that opportunity.”
County Commissioners Don Jones and Daren Moore thanked Firth for his years of service to the county. The pair were in office and were among the commissioners who appointed Firth after the death of county judge Riley Simpson.
“In 2007, the commissioners court had a very unfortunate circumstance of having to appoint a judge,” said Moore. “We had a number of great, qualified candidates, but Judge Firth – I didn’t even know who John Firth was, I’d never met the man – in looking at his resume he definitely stood apart from any of the other applicants. Once we sat down with him and interviewed him he certainly was the most qualified and best candidate for the job, and had a heart for service and a great job as it was. He has tirelessly served our county. He not only cares about our county but about its citizens, and he cares about the employees he just has a good heart for the county and everybody that’s in it.”
Firth called it an honor and privilege to have served the county for more than a decade. He talked about the importance of relationships formed.
“The amazing thing is, is that it really does work better when we work together. That’s the only way we can survive, to help our constituents, to help those that we serve, is to, in fact, work together. Whether that’s been reaching out to governmental entities, whether that be Army, the state legislature, the council of governments, economic development representatives.
“Probably the thing that’s really meant a lot to me is helping the fine folks within the county, creating jobs, creating opportunities. What we really find, for any average family is it’s tough to make it, day in and day out. A lot of families live paycheck to paycheck. We have a lot of service members, whether they be veterans or active duty, and it becomes a day-to-day challenge. Anything we can all do in our various roles in life to help others is certainly valuable.”
Firth shared about Riley Simpson, former district attorney and county judge.
“Riley meant so much to those of us who live in Copperas Cove, and it was a real honor to be able to step in and help him do what he was doing.”
Firth retired from the Army in 2000, but after 9/11, he said he thought it was important to do what he could to help the Army, so he became a project manager for a project on Fort Hood. Firth called it “a lot of fun” and said he really enjoyed helping soldiers, both in the U.S. and overseas.
“At that point the commissioners came to me and asked if I’d be willing to serve. That was an easy decision, the opportunity to serve.”
Firth thanked his executive assistant, Jean Morrison, calling her a “stalwart at helping everybody,” and he recognized the district court judges and the county attorney, as well as county auditor Ben Roberts.
Lastly, he thanked his wife, Jean, who has served as president of the Coryell County Child Welfare Board and who has stepped down from that position to join her husband in retirement. He lauded Jean’s service for children especially, ranging from her time at Fort Benning, Georgia, when she was instrumental in the program Operation Babylift, which moved children out of Vietnam, to her work during Operation Desert Storm, helping on the home front.
Jean also was recognized for her years as president of the Coryell County Child Welfare Board, with Julia Gardner, the incoming president, sharing a few words about her predecessor along with the county judge.
“(Firth) has continually believed in the mission of the Child Welfare Board in his leadership as county judge. Lady Bird Johnson once said, ‘Encourage and support your kids, because children are apt to live up to what you believe of them. Judge Firth believes that every child, especially those in our system, can and will be successful and overcome any obstacle and that they too may become leaders of our communities,” Gardner said. “(Jean) has guided and directed the board on decisions and programs that have enhanced the lives of children throughout this county. We will be forever grateful for her service.
“Together they made great decisions for our county and for the children of this county, and for that, we are forever grateful.”
Prior to cutting a cake and visiting with those in the courtroom, Firth shared his retirement plans with the crowd: “Spend as much time with my five grandchildren as I can.”