Family, friends and acquaintances were on hand Friday for the burial, with honors, of the late John O. Gibson.
Gibson died Tuesday at age 81 and was laid to rest at Memorial Gardens. Before and after funeral and burial services, many shared memories of the longtime Loudon County General Sessions Court judge, who was a continuous presence for decades in the Loudon County judicial system.
The Loudon County Veterans Honor Guard provided the U.S. Army veteran with a full military honors burial, as they do for all veterans. Roy Salton, honor guard commander, helped arrange funeral ceremonies, including a "walk through" at the Thursday night service by 27 honor guard members who presented roses and a Bible to Gibson's family.
"John has been helping us bury veterans for 35 years," Salton said. "He has been a real friend and he will be missed."
Gibson had been a weapon-bearing guard on the color guard. Salton shared a story about Gibson's insistence on wearing wide, black suspenders with his white uniform and pants, a fact that chafed the uniform dress-conscious commander.
"We finally got on the Internet and found him some white suspenders and ordered them for him," Salton said. "He was so proud of them."
Such stories of Gibson's sometimes eccentric personality have flowed freely for several days. Many have memories of the man they called "Judge" as if it were his name.
"When I started working with him in 1994, and working with him up through his retirement, we had a ball," Lisa Niles, Loudon County court clerk, said. "We would walk down the hall at the Justice Center every day singing, 'Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord.' We would just look at each other and start singing."
Niles and many others recalled how Gibson enjoyed buying day-old bread and feeding the ducks in the park every day.
"When I had my first child, he bought a little duck outfit for the baby. He was a character and a very fun person," Niles said.
Hamil Carey said his association and friendship with Gibson had lasted more than a half-century.
"I came to Loudon in '54 and he came in '57," Carey said. "He had the law office next door and we were in Rotary together since '61. He was in American Legion with me and sat at my table for meetings. It was a mighty empty table Tuesday without him there."
Gibson was the last active charter member of the Loudon Rotary Club. He was a member of the Ivo Sanders American Legion Post 120 for more than 50 years.
Loudon attorney Ed Arnold said he had known Gibson since 1958.
"I would best describe Judge John Gibson as being ardent in all areas of his life. He was an able and dedicated opponent in his trial practice, we even opposed each other in civil cases before Justices of the Peace. He was dedicated in his duties as a member of the Election Commission, City Attorney and his Judicial positions," Arnold said. "His political views were concrete and he was very active in the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary. He was a strong supporter of the Loudon and University of Tennessee athletic programs. He and I attended numerous, enjoyable social and athletic events together."
Arnold recalled one unforgettable but "not-so-enjoyable" athletic event they shared.
"I shall never forget when we drove to Jackson, Miss., on a Saturday morning to attend the now infamous 'Archie who' game, intending to spend the night," Arnold said, referring to Archie Manning, the father of Peyton and Eli Manning. Archie was the quarterback for the University of Mississippi and the New Orleans Saints. The team on that evening, Arnold said, "trounced one of Tennessee's best-ever football teams 38-0.
"We left in the third quarter and we arrived home around 4 on Sunday morning and we both attended church that day. John was equally as ardent in his love for his church and family," Arnold said. "Our association will always be cherished and never forgotten."
General Sessions Judge Rex Dale said Loudon County mourns Gibson's passing.
"His life was one dedicated to the service of others," Dale said. "Countless thousands reaped the benefits of his generous heart during his life. His military service, legal practice, judicial duties, church and civic activities have created fond memories and humorous stories from those who were honored to have been in his presence. His family has been supported by his examples of love and leadership.
Dale added, "Judge Gibson came to see me a couple of weeks before he died and shared his medical prognosis of having limited time to live. We chatted and reminisced of fond memories. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. Without hesitation, he thanked me and said no. Then, in keeping with his heart-felt life of service, he asked me a familiar question, 'Is there anything I can do for you?'"
Gibson served as General Sessions Judge for 16 years from 1982-1998.
Retired Judge Bill Russell, who succeeded Gibson as General Sessions judge, said he had known Gibson since the 1960s. He recalled participating in a play with Gibson about the Cherokee Indians in Loudon County. The play was staged at the old Loudon County Elementary School. "He portrayed Chief Ross and I was Major Ridge," Russell said.
"What tickled me most about Judge Gibson was when he practiced law with Arthur Fowler, I would go to their office. They were complete opposites. Arthur was precise and neat and well dressed. His desk would be neat and clean. John's would be stacked with papers, cigarettes burning in ash trays, coffee spilled over everything, papers burned by cigarettes," Russell said.
Some people told stories of Gibson's ashtrays and coffee on the bench and occasions when one or the other accidentally spilled.
"Judge Gibson maintained the East Tennessee language patterns all his life," Russell said. "It was evident in his letter writing and his speech. It was fascinating, because he had majored in English in college."
Gibson was a member, elder and Sunday school teacher at Loudon Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He also was a member of the Piney Ruritan Club.