COVINGTON — The Newton County community paid its respects Friday to Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr., a native son described as a steadfast friend, brother in Christ, gentleman lawyer and devoted family man.

A memorial tribute was held at the newly named Horace J. Johnson Jr. Judicial Center, with Johnson’s body lying in state following the program. Hundreds of mourners came to pay their respects. Due to social distancing requirements, few people were allowed inside the Judicial Center for the program, but it was live-streamed on a large screen outside the building and online.

Johnson died unexpectedly Wednesday, July 1, at his home. He had served as a Superior Court judge for more than 17 years.

Senior Superior Court Judge Sammy Ozburn related how he, Judge Johnson, Judge Ken Wynne, Bob Rutland and Ruel Parker met weekly to pray for the community.

“These were times when you really get to see into another person’s soul, their true character, their humility, their willingness to share, to provide guidance, and, yes, to receive guidance,” said Ozburn.

Prayer and the support of fellow judges were key to shouldering the responsibilities of serving as a Superior Court judge, said Ozburn.

“When you pray you and hear someone else pray in a small private setting, you hear words deep from the heart, words that reveal the heart,” said Ozburn “The heart of Horace Johnson revealed a desire for healing and unity in our community as it grew, where every person mattered. The heart of Horace Johnson revealed a selfless love for others, a dedication to truth and fairness, a desire for wisdom and discernment.”

Judge Wynne spoke of Johnson’s dedication to the truth.

“The truth always guided Horace, both as an attorney and as a judge,” said Wynne. “It was common knowledge that when Judge Johnson found a statement made in court to be less than truthful, his eyebrows would go up, his eyes would get big, his tongue would go in his cheek, and he would cock his head to one side. If that ever happened you knew your case was in trouble.”

Wynne also spoke of the weekly prayer meetings.

“On one of those mornings, Horace said that if we believe in truth, it is incumbent upon us to stand up and defend the truth,” said Wynne. “Horace lived his life according to his faith, founded on that truth guided by the two commandments that Jesus identified as the greatest of them all. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ He demonstrated both of these with his life.”

Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott recalled Johnson’s devotion to his family — mother Lottie, wife Michelle, sister Yvette and sons James and Bryant.

“He lived for his family,” said Ott.

“The most profound thing about Horace, to me, was that he was the living embodiment of what and how our religion says we should worship God,” added Ott. “He was a humble servant. He never sought accolades; they came, but he never sought them. He would steadfastly work for the betterment of others. His whole life was in service to others in a positiive way, and it is so fitting that the Newton County Commission has seen fit to name the judicial building after Horace. The very principles of justice, integrity, fairness, due process, and compassion that Horace exemplified are what every judicial building should stand for. And I love that every time I enter the judicial building, I will think fondly of Horace, my dear friend and colleague.”

In addition to the tributes from judges, Covington Mayor Steve Horton and Newton Commission Chairman Marcello Banes presented proclamations declaring July 10, 2020, as Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. Day. Johnson’s goddaughter, Evie Hightower, read a poem by Maya Angelou entitled “When Great Trees Fall.” Johnson’s eldest son, James, expressed the family’s gratitude for the outpouring of love and support.

The memorial program concluded with a ceremonial last call: “Courtroom Three, down for the remainder.”

Johnson’s family and friends are in the process of setting up a foundation to honor his life and legacy. Details will be announced at public memorial service at a later date.

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I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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