As I sat upstairs in the historic courthouse last week looking at the beautiful restoration work that had been done, I thought back over my more than three decades of covering news in Jackson County. My thoughts went back to the first event I covered as a young reporter.
My editor, Helen Buffington, gave me the assignment of covering the annual New Year’s Day program at the historic courthouse in Jefferson, which was still being used as a working courthouse back then.
I was most likely assigned the event as the newbie on the staff because it was held on Jan. 1, a staff holiday, and everybody else wanted the day off. Maybe so, but I was excited to get my first “byline” in the newspaper. I still have a framed copy of the article.
I took a photo at the event and wrote a story about that traditional event held in the courthouse. It was the first of many events that I would cover in the courthouse over my years of covering the news in Jackson County. I covered happy events and sad events in that courtroom. I saw elected officials being sworn in to begin a new chapter in their lives serving their fellow citizens. I covered trials where people were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives behind bars for horrible crimes.
I will always remember the faces of some of those people who were sentenced and the faces of the families of the victims and even the faces of some of the members of the jury.
There are just some cases and stories that stay with you. Some you wish you could forget but you just can’t. I was present for some tense moments in that courtroom over the years.
I remember the tortured mother who kicked the man being led out of the courtroom who was on trial for murdering her daughter. That small courthouse didn’t leave a lot of room for separating people and there were times when the different “sides” encountered each other exiting and entering the building. I remember the young woman who broke down in tears when she got life in prison because she was with her boyfriend when he murdered someone.
I also remember the people who worked at the courthouse and brightened any visit I made back then. Reba Parks, who was at the event last week, always had a smile for me and, amazingly looks exactly the same today as she did when I used to visit the courthouse as a young reporter!
I’m so thankful the courthouse committee and all of the volunteers and elected officials saved this wonderful piece of history. It is a treasure that all of Jackson County can be proud of.