Jerry Donald Winchester was a man who wore many hats during a lifetime that was devoted to public service.
“We will all miss him. Not just everyone in the legal community, but the general public. He is a man I have the upmost respect for as a public servant throughout his life as a teacher, as a FBI agent, as a prosecutor and the longest serving circuit judge we had in the 34th Judicial Circuit,” said Whitley Circuit Judge Dan Ballou, who replaced Winchester in 2007 as the Division One Circuit Judge for the 34th Judicial Circuit, which comprises both Whitley and McCreary counties.
“He did a lot for the people of Whitley and McCreary counties both professionally and personally. He was a mentor to me and became like a second dad. His son is my brother, and his daughter is my sister.”
Winchester, 76, passed away Saturday at the Continue Care Hospital in Corbin following a lengthy bout with health problems.
Funeral visitation will take place after 6 p.m. Wednesday at Croley Funeral Home, and from 11 a.m. until the funeral hour at 1 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church in Corbin.
Rev. Austin Carty, Rev. Alex Lockridge and Rev. Paul Sims will officiate.
The Whitley County Judicial Center will be closed Thursday for the funeral.
Winchester grew up in the Cooperative coal camp in McCreary County, and obtained his undergraduate degree from Cumberland College. He taught high school math and chemistry in McCreary County for one year prior to going to law school.
The change in vocation was prompted by a conversation with his wife one day about what he really wanted to do, which was law school.
He graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1967, and worked as an FBI agent for several years.
As an FBI agent, Winchester got to see much of the country working in Ohio, Washington, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
He eventually left that job, and returned to the area to practice law before eventually being elected as commonwealth’s attorney.
Winchester held that position for more than 12 years before being appointed as circuit judge in April 1987. He held that position until his retirement in 2007.
He noted in a 2007 interview that serving, as judge, was not something that he aspired to do growing up, or when he first became an attorney.
Winchester served as vice-chief regional judge for the Cumberland Region for more than a decade.
Prior to the circuit getting a second judge in 1996, Winchester consistently had one of the five highest caseloads in the state.
Winchester said during the 2007 interview that one of the things he was most proud of during his tenure as circuit judge was getting improved courtroom facilities for both Whitley and McCreary counties.
He said he was also proud of helping to get a domestic relations commissioner for both Whitley and McCreary counties in addition to establishing a drug court in both counties.
“He was a very dear person,” noted Whitley District Judge Cathy Prewitt. “He has been in my life practically all of my professional career. I can remember when I was starting as an attorney, I believe he was prosecutor and he became judge not too long after. He was always so kind in court. He will be very much missed.”
Cared about people
Ballou noted that while Winchester was a man, who took his job seriously, he knew how to be himself and not take himself too seriously.
“He cared about people, both rich and poor. It didn’t matter who they were or where they came from, he cared about people. He was a believer in Christ. So God has healed him and we will see him again, but we will always miss him,” Ballou added.
Whitley Circuit Court Clerk Gary Barton said that when he was first elected as circuit clerk in 1988, Winchester took him under his wing teaching him a lot about the court system.
“He was a great help to me in learning how to do my job as the clerk. He was a fine gentleman, who ran an outstanding court system. He was just a fine, fine man,” Barton said.
Barton noted that when you thought about Jerry Winchester, you also thought about his wife, Nell.
“They were just an outstanding couple that took me in and made me part of their family. The Winchester family meant so much to me as being clerk and also in my personal life. They are an outstanding family and I am honored to call them friends. He will be greatly missed,” Barton added.
Jerry Winchester is survived by his wife, his daughter, JeNell Winchester, and his son, Paul Winchester, who is the current Division Two Circuit Judge.
Croley Funeral Home is in charge of funeral arrangements.
For additional obituary information, see page B-5 in this week’s edition of the News Journal.