Edgar County lost one of his finest native sons this past week when retired circuit judge Richard “Dick” Scott died following a short illness.
A native of Paris who returned to his hometown to work and raise a daughter, Judge Scott became an associate circuit judge and later a resident circuit judge for Edgar County. I’m not sure there was a finer man and better storyteller who ever walked the halls of the Edgar County Courthouse.
As a cub reporter my first summer in 1974 at the Paris Beacon-News, I sat through what we still called magistrate court on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings in the downstairs courtroom in our courthouse. I didn’t make every session but when I did, boy did I learn a lot, thanks to Judge Scott. If I had a question, he was always willing to answer it.
It was during those magistrate court sessions that I came to know Judge Scott, Clayton “Rusty” Sprouls and Nila Wallace, who took down the outcome of cases by hand on a yellow legal pad. It was from her notes I was able to write stories about the cases coming before Judge Scott.
I wasn’t in Paris when Judge Scott retired, but I almost always ran into him and his wife, Maggie, when I was home. They’d be at Joe’s Pizza after Saturday night Mass or at what is now the Heartland Grill on Sunday morning after Mass.
When we opened The Prairie Press in September 2014 Judge Scott became a frequent visitor to our office. My compadre Gary Henry always offered him a chair next to Gary’s desk, and he would begin talking and telling stories. Judge Scott could make us laugh with the tales of the goings-on in his courtroom as an associate judge as well as his longtime love affair with the Chicago Cubs.
I liked to give him a difficult time about how he handled shoplifting charges in his Monday and Thursday court. That had quite an impression on a 19-year-old intern who had never been to court for any reason. I could make him laugh when I told the story, too.
In those days, shoplifters — particularly teenagers and pre-teens — were issued a notice to appear on the shoplifting offense. When a name was called, they would walk toward the bench and Judge Scott would give them a good once-over — then proceed to give the offender a dressing down that left many who appeared before him in tears.
Judge Scott would look at the charge and note the notice to appear was for shoplifting. “That’s not correct,” he would say sternly, picking up a pen. “There’s no such thing. You’re a thief. You’re guilty of theft.” Then he would make what I thought was an exaggerated motion with his pen, striking out the offending shoplifting term and replacing it with theft. “You’re a thief,” he’d said. “Isn’t that correct?”
Whenever Judge Scott came into the office, I would stand and say “Your Honor,” and he would turn around and act as if he had no idea who I was addressing. Then he’d smile and sit down and the stories would begin.
I’m not sure anyone ever wrote down any of those stories. Like my buddy Butch Parrish who we lost earlier this year — Judge Scott was a wealth of stories both funny and poignant. He could spin tales of his years at St. Mary’s Catholic School and living across the street from the church.
Judge Scott had stories about the Rev. Father J.J. Cronin, an Irish priest who served the parish for many, many years and is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery. Judge Scott’s mother directed the church choir for many, many years.
I will miss seeing Judge Scott walking around the square running errands, knowing eventually he would be stopping into the paper to visit. I am so glad he was able to experience his beloved Cubs win the World Series.
Here’s hoping Judge Scott can lean on the Lord a little to help out the Fighting Illini football team and the Chicago Bears.
People like Judge Scott, Butch Parrish, Ed Jenison, Mary Ann Pearman, Justice Carl Lund and Sen. Harry “Babe” Woodyard are what make living in this county so very wonderful and memorable.
Your Honor, there will always be a chair for you at The Prairie Press in case you want to slip in some late Friday evening when we are putting the finishing touches on the newspaper. We may not see you, but we know you’ll be there.