At a memorial service Friday, Jan. 4, fellow judges and lawyers shared their personal and professional memories of the late Judge Ronald McKenzie of Hannibal, who died Aug. 23, 2011, after serving a record 20 years as judge of the 10th District Judicial Circuit Court.
The service was at the Marion County Courthouse in Hannibal, where Circuit Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd presided. An official resolution was read by attorney John Briscoe and seconded by attorney Mark Wasinger, Associate Circuit Judge John Jackson and Senior U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber.
Later, during a reception in the courtroom, State Rep. Lindell Shumake read a Missouri House resolution and presented copies of it to each of McKenzie's children, Ronald McKenzie Jr. of Chesterfield, Mo., Mary Wells of Kirksville, Mo., Christine DeLaPorte and Michael McKenzie, both of Hannibal. They attended with their families.
Bringer Shepherd reported Judge McKenzie had achieved the longest service in the history of the 10th District Circuit Court. She introduced current judges from all branches of Missouri courts, along with elected officials, retired judges and others.
Briscoe said the resolution expressed a "lasting and deep respect" for McKenzie. He read McKenzie's educational and professional history, including serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, working his way through law school in St. Louis and serving as prosecuting attorney for 11 years before being appointed Circuit Court judge in 1977.
He was re-elected four times, Briscoe said. "Ron was one of the finest politicians in Northeast Missouri. He never had a contested race.
"He had a strong moral code and never hesitated on rules," Briscoe said. "We are all better because of Ron McKenzie's worthiness of the profession."
Wasinger said after he began practicing law in 1983, McKenzie served another 14 years. "It always impressed me how attuned Judge McKenzie was to the evidence," he said. "I found him very much a judge of the people. He told the jury they were the most important people in the courtroom. ... I also found him a lawyer's judge. He never intentionally embarrassed a lawyer."
Wasinger and the other speakers shared amusing experiences with McKenzie, including the judges' regatta at Mark Twain Lake, where each year McKenzie' told the same joke, involving a queen and commoner.
Wasinger said McKenzie was three things: "a great storyteller, enjoyed the company of lawyers and had a great sense of humor."
Quoting McKenzie at a memorial service for Wasinger's dad in November 1999, Mark Wasinger said, "Law is not for judges or lawyers. It is for the man on the street."
Jackson began by putting a lit candle on a table and announcing "the smoking lamp is lit," which brought chuckles of recognition from the people crowded into the courtroom. Calling McKenzie his mentor who had sworn him in, Jackson said he was humbled to be asked to speak.
Page 2 of 2 - As a young lawyer at his first trial Jackson said, he was asked about his closing argument. Then McKenzie advised him that a closing argument was like a sermon. "It should have a good beginning and good ending" and be brief in between.
Jackson noted that McKenzie "was stern in sentencing, but his sentence fit the crime." He said McKenzie knew "his decisions affected people's lives, and he decided impartially."
Webber reported McKenzie was a juvenile officer when the three boys disappeared and were believed to be lost in a local cave. "The experts gathered in Hannibal," he said. "Hope turn to fear, then to despair. ... The heart of Judge McKenzie is buried with those boys."
Webber also told amusing stories about incidents in the courtroom, some he had learned from Randy Wells, a retired court recorder who worked with McKenzie.
McKenzie was a friend out of the courtroom, too, Webber said. "He made people feel they were the most important person in the world" and when talking to someone "he was oblivious to the passage of time."
After all the speakers had seconded the resolution, Bringer Shepherd officially accepted it, and thanked all who helped with the service. She invited everyone to the reception in the courtroom and the later reception at T.J.'s Supper Club.
Shumake's resolution outlined McKenzie's life, from his birth on Sept. 21, 1930, to his death on Aug. 23, 2011. It detailed his education, early career and later judgeship, and ended: "The Missouri House 96th General Assembly has approved the resolution in his memory."