When Jim Blanchard Jr.s father lost a six-month bout with lung cancer and heart disease just four days before Christmas in 1973, County Ordinary Kathryn Morris appointed the son to fulfill his fathers unexpired term as Columbia County commissioner.
Blanchard then won a special election as Evans representative on the County Commission, and received enough votes to assume with it the chairmanship of the Commission. His uncle, John Pierce Blanchard, was serving as the countys elected superintendent of schools, so the family continued to hold the county governments top two posts.
That was a different time in Columbia County politics. Such family ties to government, once common, are now increasingly rare as immigrants to the county outnumber old-timers, and new ways threaten to overwhelm the countys past - for better and worse.
Blanchard is certain his father, a farmer and developer who served in county government for 13 years - 11 as chairman of the County Commission - would be proud of his son, sworn in this past Wednesday as the newest superior court judge in the Augusta Judicial Circuit. The Atlanta ceremony came almost 25 years to the day since the son followed the fathers footsteps into public service.
As the rookie in the circuit, Blanchard gets a bare-bones office and a share of cases in the ever-growing domestic court - handling divorces, custody disputes, child-support delinquencies. A man for whom family is all-important - and not just because of his lineage; hes been married to the former Rebecca Vernon since 1965 - will be responsible for arbitrating disputes between members of broken families.
Gov. Roy Barnes couldnt have picked a better man, though there certainly were other strong candidates in the running. Sheryl Jolley, the Augusta solicitor, would not just have been a woman on the otherwise all-male circuit, but is a good attorney with solid credentials for the post. And attorney Tom Harley had the backing of regent and political contributor Tim Shelnut.
Blanchard had powerful allies, too. He was senior partner in Fleming, Blanchard, Jackson, Ingram and Floyd; the Fleming is the family of the circuits senior judge, William Fleming. State Sen. Charles Walker also took a shine to Blanchard, who helped raise a lot of political cash.
All that stuff, though, is important primarily to political pundits. More important is that hes just a good man. It helps that Blanchard has 21 years under his robes as a juvenile court judge, preparing him for his new life as a judge of adult problems.
Those family ties also help. Blanchard, as a native of Columbia County and thus of the judicial circuit, brings deep roots to the bench. His decisions wont be light ones, based on dry interpretations of law and legal precedent. Those deep roots ensure that every decision carries forward the legacy that he inherited to work to make his community a better one.
My parents and grandparents always stressed to us children that if you study hard, work hard and live right, that youre only limited by your imagination, Blanchard says. He once imagined becoming district attorney in Augusta, and failed to win his own home county in a race with the incumbent. He never sought elected office again, but this November will stand for election for the judicial post that came his way because he studied hard, worked hard and lived right.
Something else his family taught: Patience. At age 59, 25 years after first stepping reluctantly into public service, a patient Jim Blanchard Jr. is rewarded with a career-capping role as a judge. The governor didnt pick a better man because there wasnt a better one available.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
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