Wednesday, July 17, 2024

An integrity that’s ‘unimpeachable’

Former District Judge Ralph Walton honored with portrait

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The Ralph H. Walton, Jr. Justice Center now proudly displays a portrait of its namesake, following the official unveiling of the painting created by local artist James Spurlock on Sept. 14.
Ralph Walton, who presided over the 355th district court for a total of 27 years, retired on May 31, 2021, citing health reasons as his cause for departure.
Following his retirement, the Hood County Commissioners Court voted unanimously on Dec. 14, 2021, to rename the Hood County Justice Center the Ralph H. Walton, Jr. Justice Center.
But that’s not the only honor that Walton has received.
Now, two years later, the county is honoring the longtime judge once again, with a painted portrait that will be hung up and displayed at the justice center for many years to come.
During the unveiling ceremony on Sept. 14, Walton’s family and friends spoke about the many accomplishments and accolades that he has earned over the years.
Walton’s brother, Maurice, spoke about their childhood with their brother, Paul, and how their parents believed that a person’s “greatest contributions were the ones they leave behind.”
Maurice explained how they were regular churchgoers as a family and how both brothers prepared for college following high school graduation — even though it was never discussed beforehand.
“In 1966 when he graduated from high school, he enrolled in Baylor that fall,” Maurice said. “I went to Baylor in 1969.”
Ralph married his elementary school sweetheart, Patsy, in 1968. Maurice said that in the early years, he spent “a lot of time at Ralph and Patsy’s house.”
"I remember when he started law school,” he said. “I remember when he finished his finals after that first quarter.”
“Don’t talk about that,” Ralph chimed in, leading to chuckles around the room.
“I don't ever remember not knowing (Patsy),” Maurice continued. “They've been married 55 years this August.”
Coincidentally, the same day that Ralph and Patsy moved to Granbury is also the same day that their oldest daughter, Allison, was born.
“In 1974 — June, to be exact — Paul, Ralph and I, we loaded up their worldly possessions in a U-Haul, and we came to Granbury,” Maurice said. “Patsy, and my Aunt Shirley loaded up and went to Arlington Memorial Hospital. That day, we got to move Patsy and Allison, so it was a big day in the lives of the Waltons. The change was huge.”
Maurice and Ralph ended up following the same career path, as well, with law becoming a huge passion for the two of them.
"When Ralph called, it was just a part of the plan,” Maurice said. “We talked about it when he was in law school and I decided, ‘Well, I'll go to law school.’ We decided that if we ever had the opportunity, we would practice law together.”
Ralph practiced law until 1985, when he went “on the bench” for a newly created judicial district, according to Maurice. He was then appointed by another lawyer, Governor Mark White, where he served about four years, stepped down, and was then reelected in 1999. Following his reelection, he continued to serve on the bench until his retirement in 2021.
"Ralph served as attorney or as a judge, for Hood County/Granbury for a total of 47 years, and everybody knows — except some criminals sitting in a jail or prison somewhere — that he did a good job,” Maurice said.
He jokingly added that many people might wonder what it’s like being a younger brother to Judge Walton, but to him, he will always be “Rah.”
“We have been more than brothers — we've been friends,” Maurice said. “I believe in divine providence. I believe that God directs the affairs of this earth, and in doing that he had a path for Ralph, and he had a path for me. When we were growing up, we were taught that if you had an accomplishment, it was an accomplishment for the family. So, when I see the things that Ralph has done, it brings joy to me. I appreciate what he's been able to do.”
Ron Sutton then came up to the podium during the ceremony to talk about his good friend and brother in Christ, Ralph.
He started off by saying that Ralph is a man “loved by women and little girls,” “admired by men and boys,” and “feared by lawyers and criminals.”
"One of the reasons that Ralph is so well respected is his commitment to the rule of law, and I'm referring to Ralph's commitment to God's law and that's the foundation for all of Ralph's relationships,” Sutton said. “First, with Christ Jesus, second, with his family, and third, his work and the community.”
He explained how he was introduced to Ralph by a mutual friend more than 25 years ago, adding that both Ralph and Sutton had different colored hair at the time.
“And more of it,” Ralph chimed in.
Sutton continued, “Ralph and Patsy would be the first ones to tell you that they would not be the people they are without the community of Hood County. And I tell you, I think everyone here will agree with me that our community would not be what it is today without Ralph and Patsy Walton. Ralph, thank you. Patsy, thank you — for all y'all have done to bring us here for this moment. And thank you, Lord, for allowing it and blessing it.”
Hood County Judge Ron Massingill then took to the podium to speak about his relationship with Ralph, and his own perspective of him “from the bench.”
Massingill explained how when he was elected for his first term, he received the “most beautiful handwritten personal note from Judge Walton” congratulating him.
The note also read how much Ralph was looking forward to working with Massingill and included Ralph’s personal cell phone number.
"Do you know how heartwarming that was for me to get from somebody like Ralph Walton, who was already a legend, in my mind?” Massingill said. “But that's what he was to me. So, when I give you the perspective of how Ralph Walton treated another young judge — young in the sense of experience, not in age — that's what he did.”
Massingill talked about how the pair worked on committees and boards together, and how they were a “committee of two” in making certain decisions pertaining to Hood County.
After Massingill had worked as a judge for about a year and a half, he came to speak to Ralph hoping to seek his guidance on a situation.
"I said, ‘I really would like to make a change. But I'm gonna defer to you’ — at this time, I had about a year and a half of experience as a judge, and he only had like 25 years' experience as a judge — and he leaned back, and he says, ‘No, you have to deal with that situation on a daily basis. You make the decision, you do what's best, and I will support you 100%,’ — that's the type of guy Ralph Walton is,” Massingill said, choking back tears. “That's what he did for me — that trust, that encouragement.”
He also described how he would attend several judicial conferences and had many people come up to him who had heard nothing but positive remarks about Ralph Walton.
"They said, ‘We hear about him, and that his honesty, his fairness, and his knowledge of the law is just unparalleled,’” Massingill said. “He is a great judge. He's fair, and he's honest, and we're so fortunate to have him. But the one thing that I also wanted to say is that in addition to all of his other good qualities that he does have, this is the one thing that we can say about him: his integrity is unimpeachable. I guarantee he's a friend to everybody here in Hood County except for the ones who are doing time.”
Following Massingill’s speech, Ralph walked up to the podium and said simply, “Dadgum it. I feel like I've been attending my funeral,” eliciting chuckles throughout the building from attendees.
"But seriously, this is wonderful, and I appreciate all the kind words," he said. “Patsy and I've been here a long time. As most of you probably know, we came here in 1974. Allison was about to be born and was born, the day that we moved as Maurice has already described. We just decided that we were going to make our life here in Hood County.”
Ralph said he remembers visiting Granbury for the first time and saying, “My gosh, why would anybody want to come here?”
But the beautiful lake convinced Ralph and Patsy to make their home here in town, because as he told Patsy, a lake “means people.”
"I have no doubt in my mind the Lord sent us here,” Ralph said. “I don't know all the reasons and what all the purposes were, but I know that he sent us here, because there was no other reason to come — believe me, not at that time — but it has become a great place."
He then took the time to thank his family and for everyone who has stood by him throughout his career.
“All of these folks that have worked with me all these years, it's a wonderful thing and I appreciate it,” Ralph added. “Thank you all so much for coming. Thank you for what you have done for me and my family. God bless you, God bless Texas, and God bless Granbury. I love you all.”

ashley@hcnews.com | 817-573-1243