2009-03-11 / Front Page

County mourns death of Judge Weatherford

By TIM GULLA Ledger Staff Writer tim@gaffneyledger.com

WADE S. WEATHERFORD JR. WADE S. WEATHERFORD JR. A voracious reader, Wade S. Weatherford Jr. spent at least three hours a day engrossed in books, magazines and newspapers.

If he wasn't reading at home, chances were good he could be found at the Cherokee County Public Library obtaining new material or donating the magazines he had already finished. Right until the very end, friends and family said, his mind remained as sharp as a tack.

While Weatherford, 88, is remembered for many things, among them his oratory skills, love of history and the joy he received from intellectual challenges, friends and family most remembered him Tuesday as a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

Weatherford, who held several high positions in public life, in politics and in the South Carolina judicial system, passed away Monday at his Gaffney home. He served as a Circuit Court judge from 1967 to 1981 and previously served seven years in Columbia, first as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and subsequently as a member of the state Senate.

He leaves behind his wife of 64 years, Eleanor, as well as three children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Weatherford's legal career as a judge was highlighted by many high-profile cases, including the 1969 trial of Leroy Martin, perhaps better known as "The Gaffney Strangler." In another case that received nationwide attention, he ruled that an adopted adult had the right to see his or her records in the search for his or her biological parents.

And in 1971, Weatherford's work caught the attention of the New York Times. That year, Weatherford sentenced three ringleaders from a white segregationist group who in 1970 had stormed school buses carrying black children to a newly integrated school in Lamar. Weatherford's public admonishment of the defendants and praise of the jury verdict, the New York Times would later write, "serves notice to the rest of the country, that Southern justice can no longer be counted upon to close its eyes to the crimes committed by whites against Negroes."

While he lived a very public life during his career, Weatherford cherished privacy in his retirement. After stepping down from the bench in 1981, he and his wife enjoyed traveling, circling the globe at least twice.

Keeping with his personal wishes, Weatherford's death will be marked by a private service.

"Obviously he was the best influence in my life," said his son, Wade S. "Chip" Weatherford III, an attorney and municipal court judge for the City of Gaffney. "I think he's the smartest man I ever personally knew."

Asked how he thought his father would want to be remembered, or what he was most proud of, Chip Weatherford said, "He was most proud of my mother. I'd say she was the most important thing in his whole life."

A longtime friend and neighbor, Attorney Ken Holland, said he will greatly miss seeing Weatherford during his daily walks.

If Holland had his Harley-Davidson motorcycle out when Weatherford was walking by, Weatherford was sure to stop. "He was an old-time Harley-Davidson person," Holland said. "He could kick the tires and talk about Harleys."

Though Holland didn't practice before Weatherford, since their legal and political careers didn't coincide, he said Weatherford wasn't just a friend but a strong influence on his life.

"Every time I got a chance to talk to him, he liked to talk a lot of politics," Holland said. "He was quite an orator. That man could make a political speech that was really refined."

Another longtime friend and neighbor, retired Gaffney Ledger Publisher Louis Sossamon offered, "Wade left a wonderful family and will be remembered by many whom he served in his law profession as well as serving the citizens of Cherokee County and State of South Carolina in the State House and Senate."

Weatherford's obituary can be found on Page 8.

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