Baldwin remembered for fairness, service

Published 1:42 am Saturday, October 29, 2011

Judge Baldwin enjoys a 90th birthday celebration with his wife, Betty, last year.

Former Circuit Judge William H. Baldwin was remembered Friday as a fair judge, a civic-minded man, and a member of the Greatest Generation.

The Pearl Harbor survivor died in Pensacola Friday after a brief illness.

The former judge grew up in a legal family, and married into another one.

“His father was E.O. Baldwin, who was one of the spectacular orators in the courtroom,” Ab Powell recalled. “They used to have crowds who would come to the courtroom every term of court. E.O. Baldwin was a crowd favorite,” he said.

But it wasn’t until after Bill Baldwin’s service in World War II that he pursued a legal career. Baldwin was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. In a 2007 interview with The Star-News, Baldwin said neither he nor his peers did anything to set themselves apart in their reactions.

“We each had a job to do and we did it as best we could,” he said. “We were caught by surprise, but we did our duty and did our jobs.”

His job that day was to put fires out. By the end of the war, he said, “Anyone who had seen a load of shot-up men coming through that base would not have questioned using any weapon we had at our disposal to end that war.”

After his naval service, Baldwin took advantage of the G.I. Bill to go to law school. After he began practicing law, he married into another family with legal ties when he took as his bride Betty Brogden, who was a legal secretary at the time. Her family included a district attorney, probate judge, and circuit judge.

“He practiced law in Andalusia for a number of years, and was a very respected attorney,” Powell recalled.

Baldwin became the third judge to sit on the district bench here, following Donald Colquett of Opp and Clyde M. Love of Florala. He later replaced then-Circuit Judge Powell when he resigned from the bench in 1979.

Known as a fair judge, he also had a reputation as an impatient one who expected things to be done correctly in his courtroom.

“He was very impatient,” Earl Johnson recalled. “I used to say that Judge Baldwin sat down thinking about getting up. But he was fair; he just liked to get on with it.”

Current bar commissioner John Peek recalled that Baldwin was on the bench when he first clerked at an Andalusia firm while in law school and began practicing law.

“I was told in advance that Judge Baldwin expected the work product placed in front of him to be correct and professionally prepared, and if it wasn’t in tip-top shape, you would not stay in court for long.” Peek said. “I saw in practice that he did in fact insist upon the best work from the lawyers in his court.”

Those who practiced law before him said there was a tell-tale sign when he was getting impatient.

“Judge Baldwin’s face would turn beet red,” Johnson said.

Before he became a judge, Baldwin served as mayor of Andalusia.

“He was on the city council, serving as mayor pro tem, when Leland Enzor, who had just been elected mayor, decided to run for probate judge, and was elected,” Johnson said. “Judge Baldwin then filled out the remainder of that term as mayor. The guy has been a solid citizen, a good lawyer, and a good judge.”

He also was a devoted member of the Andalusia Lions Club, which he joined on Jan. 1, 1957. He rarely missed a meeting, and celebrated his 90th birthday at a club meeting last fall.

Fellow Lion’s Club member Fred Winkler recalled that Baldwin “was a very good light bulb salesman (for the club), especially in the area of Bellwood where he lived.

“He was active in selecting the Lions Club member of the year each year, and always presented very good programs for the club,” Winkler said. “He was famous for his introduction of speakers. He always had an interesting, and also a very comical side to his introductions. He had a very keen sense of humor and a keen mind.”

“I was in the Lion’s Club with Judge for 10 years, and I never knew him to miss a meeting,” Peek recalled. “I recall that he never pushed his opinion upon anyone, and while the rest of the membership got teased in some way or another during meetings, Judge Baldwin was immune to the sadistic work of the ‘tail-twister.’ ”

He was a Methodist, was active in veterans organizations, and enjoyed fishing, friends said. The Baldwins have three sons.

“Judge Baldwin is the Covington County Bar’s true and legitimate hero, one of the few remaining Pearl Harbor survivors,” Peek said. “He carried himself in quiet dignity even regarding that unique life experience, and rarely talked about that time, as is the way of the Greatest Generation.”

Funeral services will be at 2:30 p.m. Sun., Oct. 30, at the First United Methodist Church with Rev. Tim Trent officiating. Burial will follow in Andalusia Memorial Cemetery. Visitation will be at 5:30 PM today, Sat., Oct. 29, at Foreman Funeral Home.


Click here to read a 2007 interview with Judge Baldwin.