Jan. 17, 2005: Wealth Is Measured By Friendships, Not Bank Accounts

When you have witnessed as many sunrises and sunsets as I have, you learn some inevitable truths. You discover, for example, that you measure your wealth not by bank accounts and accumulated toys, but by meaningful friendships, and that the best friends are the ones willing to accept you the way you are — warts and all.

Thankfully, I have such a friend. His name is Jere White. Many people know him as The Honorable Jere F. White, senior judge of the Superior Court of Bartow County. I know him as my friend — and a pretty fair country golfer. Jere White is a senior citizen and capable of shooting his age or better any day that he is on the course.

I first met Judge White when I joined the board of directors of our condominium association at St. Simons, but I had known about him long before, while I was serving as the only non-attorney member of the State Ethics Commission. I sat and listened to my fellow commissioners at our lunch breaks discuss various judges, including the arrogant and the incompetent, but when they got to Jere White, the unanimous feeling was that he was one of the finest men on the bench — courteous to all parties, knowledgeable of the law and whose decisions were rarely overturned.

It turns out they had only scratched the surface. Jere White is the epitome of the gracious Southern Gentleman. He is equally courteous to the important and the not-so-important. Go into any restaurant on St. Simons with him and the waitresses holler, “Jere, how yah doin’?” Few, if any, of them know he is a highly respected judge. All know that he is a good and decent man they enjoy waiting on.

Jere White served as superior court judge in Bartow County from 1976 to 1992, and prior to that was the county’s solicitor general or, in today’s parlance, district attorney. He has an old-fashioned and refreshing view of the law. He thinks young lawyers should do as much pro bono work as possible and learn to appreciate the law, rather than racking up billable hours in some silk stocking law firm. He knows whereof he speaks. As a young lawyer in Cartersville, he defended accused murderers, robbers and other nefarious slugs, not because he wanted to but because the law says everyone is entitled to legal representation. Jere White saw that they got it.

But don’t be fooled by his gracious manner. In the courtroom, he ran the show. The story is told of a high-profile Atlanta attorney who appeared in Judge White’s courtroom and made numerous objections to the judge’s rulings. If overruled, he would look at the judge and then the jury and shrug dramatically as he walked back to his chair. After the third shrug, Judge White sent the jury out and told the lawyer that as judge, he was doing his best to ensure a fair trial and if he misapplied the law, he was sure the lawyer would take the case to the Court of Appeals and quickly have his rulings overturned, which, he said, was the way it should be. “In the meantime,” the judge said quietly, “shrug at me one more time and you will spend your nights in the Bartow County jail.” End of shrugs.

Despite his reputation as a respected jurist, Judge White’s greatest pride is his family. He and his wife, Laura, have raised three successful children and bask in the glory of equally successful grandchildren who range from a member of the Bush administration to a linebacker at the University of Virginia.

I have met few people with more integrity than Jere White. Most importantly, for someone who has spent most of his life in public service, he probably can’t call to mind a single enemy, even among those he has prosecuted as DA or convicted as judge. How many people can you say that about?

I lack the ability to adequately describe this good man. Suffice it to say that I am very rich because I can call Jere White my friend.