published Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Hamilton County retired Judge Ronald Durby shares laughs, stories

Former Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Ron Durby, right, jokes with Judge Clarence Shattuck during Judge Durby’s portrait hanging ceremony on Wednesday at the City-County Courts Building.
Former Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Ron Durby, right, jokes with Judge Clarence Shattuck during Judge Durby’s portrait hanging ceremony on Wednesday at the City-County Courts Building.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

There were many recollections, stories, anecdotes and likely yarns shared in the standing-room-only courtroom for Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Ronald Durby's portrait unveiling ceremony Wednesday.

One sums up Durby's reputation quickly:

Friend and retired Circuit Court Judge Sam Payne lightheartedly shared a comment made by legendary University of Alabama Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant when he visited Chattanooga decades ago and ran into Durby, his former player.

"There's old Durby. He came farther on less talent than anyone I know," Payne recalled Bryant saying.

From his days under Bryant, playing quick tackle on national championship teams in 1961 and 1964, to his time as Hamilton County clerk and master, to his appointment as judge of a newly created division of Sessions Court, Durby worked hard, colleagues said.

Football brought Durby to Chattanooga. After leaving the Crimson Tide as a player, the Memphis native coached at a high school in Jasper, Ala., then at Morehead State University in Kentucky before then-University of Chattanooga head coach Harold Wilkes hired him.

He became friends with Payne, then a lawyer working with now-General Sessions Judge Clarence Shattuck. The pair talked Durby into going to law school at the University of Tennessee, after which he returned to Chattanooga.

After a few years in a private law practice with Shattuck, Durby was elected clerk and master of Chancery Court and served from 1986 until 1996. Two additional General Sessions Court divisions were created in 1995, and Durby and the late Bob Moon were appointed to those positions in 1996.

Durby since has won re-election twice.

Shattuck joked with the crowd that he spent eight years trying to get rid of Durby when the pair were in private practice, only to see him follow him into a neighboring judgeship a few years later.

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Deputy Gary Blair became close friends with Durby, serving as one of his court security officers for a decade. Blair is a fellow Crimson Tide fan and reveled in the judge's stories of Bryant.

"He had such a peaceful and calm way he handled things in court," Blair said. "He's just so even-keel. It made my job easy."

Durby retired last year for health reasons. Lila Statom was appointed to fill his position and must seek election in 2014.

After nearly an hour of accolades, Durby addressed the crowd of at least 150 people and kept his remarks short.

"I know you came to eat, and I'm not going to keep you from eating," he said.

A line of well-wishers shook hands and had their photographs taken with the retired judge next to his portrait, which will be displayed in his old courtroom.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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