Friends and colleagues give big retirement send off to judge after almost half a century on the bench in Roane County

Damon Lawrence roanecountynews.com
The people is what retiring Criminal Court Judge E. Eugene Eblen will miss most about his job.
“I’m not going to miss anything about a child case or anything like that,” Eblen said. “But the routine, I’ll miss that.

“I’ll miss going into the office, but mostly I’ll just miss the people.”

The people came in droves on Friday to pay homage to Eblen’s nearly half century on the bench.

His retirement party in the criminal courtroom at the Roane County Courthouse was standing room only at some points.

“We don’t know of any other judge that’s served longer continuously in Tennessee than judge Eblen,” District Attorney General Russell Johnson said.

Eblen became Roane County General Sessions Court judge on July 1, 1967.

“I thought I’d probably sit on the sessions bench a while, and then maybe go to the legislature or go back to practicing law,” he said.

It didn’t work out that way.

Eblen ran for and was elected criminal court judge for the 9th Judicial District in 1978. He’s held

the position ever since, running unopposed in 1982, 1990, 1998, 2006 and 2014.

“He is the longest-serving judge ever in Roane County — and perhaps the longest-serving judge in Tennessee history,” state Sen. Ken Yager said.

Eblen turned 80 on Dec. 7. This past May, he announced that he would be retiring at the end of the year.

He said he decided to step down because he lost some of his steam. He said he’s still good health-wise, other than a shoulder injury he suffered falling off a ladder in his garage in July.

“I started tiring out more, and I don’t want to do it halfway,” he said. “I either want to do it full steam or not at all.”

Rockwood attorney J. Polk Cooley said Eblen always kept a steady hand on the bench.

“Most of our mistakes are made when we get in a hurry,” Cooley said. “He keeps it slow, he keeps it even, has an even temperament. He has set an awful good example.

“I’m very proud of Gene.”

Cooley was one of several who shared stories and thoughts about Eblen with the crowd.

“You bring a special chemistry here and this crowd really speaks that,” retired judge James “Buddy” Scott said.

Harriman attorney Bill Newcomb said one of the things that stood out about Eblen was his judicial temperament.

“He knew how to deal with people, and he had a heart,” Newcomb said. “He didn’t get mad, and I thank you for all of that.”

Many of the stories, like the one told by Kingston attorney Sandy McPherson, were funny and drew big laughs from the crowd.

“He comes to me one day in my office, I don’t have two nickels to rub together, and he says we’re going to buy a flower shop,” McPherson said.

“I said, ‘Gene, we don’t know nothing about flowers.’ He said, ‘With my expertise and your money, we’ll get this done.’”

Yager and state Rep. Kent Calfee presented Eblen with a proclamation from the Tennessee Senate.

“Someone’s whose achievements are as noteworthy as judge Eblen, and the long tenure of public service of his, merit recognition by the state of Tennessee,” Yager said.

Jim Henry, Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief of staff, presented Eblen with a letter from the governor. Roane County Commission Chairman Ron Berry presented Eblen with a resolution the County Commission passed in his honor.

Eblen became emotional during the party.

“This is just overwhelming to me, and I’m going to miss you people,” he said.

“I’m not going to talk too long, because I’m going to cry. Thank you.”

General Sessions Judge Jeff Wicks will take over as criminal court judge for the judicial district after Eblen steps down on Dec. 31.

Eblen swore Wicks in on Friday.

“I’d like for all of you to speak with Judge Wicks and congratulate him and support him in the coming term,” Eblen said. “We know it will all be in good hands.”