Optimistic determination and steadfast integrity — relying on those qualities, Hamblen County General Sessions Judge Joyce M. Ward served local citizens for 16 years.
Her tenure ends Thursday, May 31, as her retirement begins. Tuesday afternoon, state Sen. Steve Southerland, Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain, Hamblen County commissioners, Hamblen County circuit court clerks, attorneys and friends gathered to celebrate Ward, both as a person and as a judge.
Morristown attorney Kelley Hinsley opened the ceremony and cited how Ward’s character made her not just a great judge, but also a cancer survivor.
“Her recovery was actually achieved because of her positive, confident, unyielding strength of character and her resolve to live. Because of that, she’s given us many years to share that joy — of her recovery and the benefit for her work. Let’s thank her now for refusing to die,” Hinsley said.
Southerland said he was proud to represent the state and Gov. Bill Haslam in thanking Ward for her years of service and wishing her well in retirement. He presented her with a certificate of merit, signed by the governor.
“I hereby confer upon you, Judge Joyce Ward, this Certificate of Award of Merit in recognition of your years of service, of faithful service in the best interests and the highest traditions in the state of Tennessee,” Southerland said.
Hamblen County Commission Chairman Stancil Ford, District 13, recalled when the body first appointed Ward as judge in 1978; at the time, she was the first woman to hold the general sessions judgeship in Hamblen County and the third in Tennessee. The people first elected her to the post in 1996.
“We appointed Judge Ward to fill out an unexpired term. She was elected many times thereafter with no problem whatsoever. But she has served this county and served it well,” Ford said.
Ford and Brittain proclaimed May 29, 2012, as Judge Joyce Mills Ward Day and thanked her for her years of service. Hamblen County Circuit Court Clerk Teresa West read the declaration.
“Hamblen County has been fortunate to have Judge Joyce Ward at the bench for so many years,” West said. Ward said the best part of her job as judge was all the friends she’d made, from the clerks to the attorneys, to the public officials.
“I appreciate each and every one of you so much and the only bad thing about retirement is that I won’t be seeing you anymore,” Ward said.
The clerks presented Ward with a picture of themselves, so she would never be without them, they joked.
“I will treasure this because it’s a reminder of the times here,” Ward said as she wiped away tears.
Ward’s husband, attorney Thomas Richard Spradlin, told the story of meeting Ward and how he knew when he saw her that she was the woman for him.
“She has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me and I know that she loves all of you. As one who has watched her interact with you, I must say that I’m just the luckiest man in the world and I can vouch that she loves each and every one of you,” Spradlin said.
Ward said serving as the people of Hamblen County was a great honor.
“It’s a big thing for a little person … It’s a great end to a great career,” Ward said.