After 31 years of service, Forsyth County’s chief deputy clerk of court is retiring.
Tears and laughter filled the jury assembly room at the Forsyth County Courthouse during a reception Thursday for Judy Westray.
Westray was this year’s recipient of the Liberty Bell Award. The honor is given annually by bar associations nationwide to those who have made substantial contributions to their local judicial systems.
Her last day on the job is Dec. 18. It appears her replacement, Dean Gravitt, has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley recalled Westray's help during his days as a young lawyer.
“It was always a comfort when I would come to do whatever business I had to do at the courthouse and know that Judy Westray was here,” he said. “She was our courthouse mama.”
Bagley said rather than bother Cecil McClure, the clerk of court at the time, young lawyers went to Westray for help.
“She always had the answer or she’d try to help us,” he said. “You’ve been a big inspiration in my life, Judy, and we’re going to miss you sorely here in the courthouse. You’ve been a fixture for so many years.”
Bagley presented Westray with a resolution recognizing and commending her work over the years.
Westray said she plans to travel with her husband and spend more time with her grandchildren.
“I’ve just got a lot of things to catch up on,” she said.
Westray said she will miss her “work family” the most.
“My friends and the people of the county that came in that I was able to help, all of that I’m going to miss,” she said. “The clerk’s office is a great place to work and I love Forsyth County, that’s my home.”
Clerk of Court Greg Allen, who took office in January, fought back tears as he spoke of Westray.
Allen described her as a “pillar of the courthouse.”
“The clerk’s office will be a much emptier place without her,” Allen said. “I promise we’ll do our best to live up to your standards ... you taught me to always remember to follow the code and doing the job right matters.”
Doug Sorrells, who held the clerk’s post until last year, spoke of how he leaned on Westray when he first came on the job in 1996.
“Judy said, ‘You just manage the office and manage the employees and it will work out.' And it did,” he said.
Sorrells said he soon learned the two most important words uttered in the clerk’s office: Ask Judy.
Superior Court Justice David L. Dickinson agreed that Westray will be missed.
“She has great respect for others and she treats everyone fairly, the way she’d like to be treated,” he said.
Dickinson noted that while Westray is “grounded in tradition, she’s also open to innovation.”
“She’s not afraid to take steps to do things if they appear that we can make things better, more efficient, she hasn’t been hesitant,” he said.
State Court Judge Phillip C. Smith presented Westray with a platter in honor of her “gracious service.”
He commended the clerk’s office for having a good reputation and joked that Westray is "the clerk of court” and that “she would quietly run things in her own way.”
Probate Judge Lynwood D. “Woody” Jordan said he stops to speak with Westray at the courthouse every day when he brings in the mail.
“She’s very special to all of us,” he said. “She was special to the bar association when we gave her the Liberty Bell Award and we’re going to miss her.”