Judge Thomas Peoples died Sept. 19 at the age of 77.
Like most people, and particularly attorneys, I had the utmost respect for Judge Peoples.
He was a man of integrity and unflappable character. He was very loyal to his family, staff and the people he served, i.e. the citizens of Blair County.
I enjoyed an inside view of Judge Peoples.
My mother, Barbara Stoehr, served as his secretary for many years in the district attorney's office and later as the judge's secretary.
I remember Judge Peoples being mentioned at the dinner table on many occasions during my high school years. Judge Peoples could be stern and seemingly inflexible. However, this somewhat tough exterior was his way of committing to his own beliefs.
Later in life, I had the good fortune to be a college student in Criminal Law I and II, taught by District Attorney Tom Peoples. More often than not, I managed an "A" in college. With Tom Peoples, I was proud of my "B" in both courses. Later, I was undecided whether I wanted to go to law school. I conferred with Judge Peoples after college, but the timing wasn't right, and I entered the business world.
I became more serious about law school at age 30 and discussed this with him in great detail prior to application. Perhaps our talk was not the sole reason for attending law school, but the insight he gave me was pivotal in my decision.
Finally, I had the opportunity to try my first case as a civil litigator in a two-day jury trial before His Honor.
My mother went to high school with Judge Peoples and was still his secretary. Perhaps a cynical person would believe that this relationship would give me the inside advantage with Judge Peoples.
After all, I would merely need to smile and wink, and expect favorable rulings. It was wise on my part not to have any such expectations. Judge Peoples' pretrial rulings and rulings during the trial were very even-handed. In one instance, Judge Peoples politely listened to my objection, gave me his ice-cold stare, and overruled me with such emphasis that I wondered why I had opened my mouth.
Fortunately, I won this slip-and-fall case, but it had nothing to do with any alleged relationship I had with the judge.
I attended Judge Peoples' funeral and the Resolutions of the Blair County Bar. I spoke with Judge Peoples' wife, Maureen, who now resides at Garvey Manor.
The eulogy given by Court of Appeals Judge D. Brooks Smith reminded us that Judge Peoples was a complex man. He was steadfast in his beliefs and unwavering in his faith. Yet he was a common man with a dry sense of humor as well. Above all, Judge Peoples was respected by all.
The Blair County Court has lost its leader, and he will be sorely missed.
Doug Stoehr, Altoona