Judge Peoples remembered

Thomas G. Peoples turned down a chance to run for the state Supreme Court, several hundred judicial colleagues, lawyers, courthouse workers and friends learned during the senior judge’s funeral on Wednesday.

Peoples died last Thursday after a weeklong illness.

U.S. 3rd Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith during his eulogy told those assembled at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona that Peoples had been encouraged to run for Pennsylvania’s top court not long after he became a Blair County judge in 1980.

Smith, who befriended then-attorney Peoples more than 40 years ago, said Peoples even received encouragement from the late Justice Bill Hutchison, but when it came down to a decision, Peoples decided to stick with his job in Blair County, and, counting his time as president judge and senior judge, he served for 33 years.

With that long service, Peoples became “a genuine institution,” Smith said. Peoples was his mentor and friend, but Smith described him as a “complex man.”

“It would be impossible for me to talk about him at all without mentioning his enormous dedication and his commitment to hard work,” Smith said.

He said, “What drove him was a strong-willed desire to do the right thing. And he was guided in this by both the law and his faith.”

With Judge Peoples, “It was never about the money. It was always about public service,” he said.

Smith told of Peoples’ bravery during a time the judge was being stalked by a “veteran criminal” but only reluctantly accepted police protection, which Smith, who succeeded Peoples as district attorney, ordered.

Peoples’ work with juvenile offenders was well-known, he said.

Another thing most didn’t know was that Peoples was a “talented carpenter,” who loved working with his hands.

“Working with wood, saw, lathe, hammer and sander gave Tom relaxation and a sense of a job well done,” said Smith.

During his eulogy, Smith turned toward Judge Peoples’ family, directing his comments to wife, Maureen; son, Thomas G. Peoples III; daughters, Amy Dudukovich and Jennifer A. Yourkavitch; surviving sister, Virgina Castellana; and eight grandchildren.

To his children, Smith said, “Tom, Amy and Jen: I want you to know that I – and so many others – regarded your father as a great man.”

Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese described Smith as “a fine Catholic gentleman,” and during his homily, the bishop said Peoples was a man of humor, but also a man who also accepted the teachings of Christ and adhered to an idea: “We must be of service to others.”

“Tom Peoples accepted that teaching of Christ and put it into practice,” the bishop said.

Life, he said, is not about glory but “about doing his best to be a good and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Pallbearers were Blair County Judges Timothy M. Sullivan and Daniel J. Milliron, attorney Ben Levine, former Blair County employee Michael McCalpin, retired state Senate Pro Tem Robert C. Jubelirer and Garvey Manor Chief Financial Officer Timothy Graupensperger.

The solemnity and history of the occasion were not lost on Jubelirer, whose father, Samuel, was a Blair County judge for many years.

When Peoples was elected, he asked the then-senator if he could wear Samuel Jubelirer’s robe, and Jubelirer said he could. That created a bond between the two that remained strong to the end.

Peoples’ legacy, Jubelirer said after the ceremonies, is not just his family but the judge’s reputation: “the way he treated people, the way he interpreted the law.”

Judge Peoples, he said, was what a judge is supposed to be.

“He represented everything that is good about being fair, impartial, definitive.”

Jubelirer said his father told him “I only have one thing to give you. It’s my name. Don’t mess it up.”

Peoples’ father, Thomas Sr., who served 48 years as a Blair County register of wills and recorder of deeds, probably said the same thing to his son, and Jubelirer commented, looking down, the father, Tom Peoples, is probably “pretty darn proud.”

About 50 people and a police honor guard were present when Peoples was interred just before noon in Calvary Cemetery.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.