Thomas Keadle often performs marriages as part of his duties as the judge in the 26th Judicial Circuit, and he always has a ready quip for the couple's initial question.
"Nine times out of 10, it's the woman who calls me," Keadle said. "They always ask, 'Will you marry me?' I always tell them, 'Thank you, I'm flattered, but I'm already married.' There's silence on the other end, and then they catch it and start laughing. That happens a lot, and I just can't resist that one."
That classic quip will be put on the shelf Jan. 31 when Keadle bangs the gavel on his final day in court. The soon-to-be 75-year-old will be hanging up his robe, but said he doesn't plan to put away his law books. He said he hopes to do some senior status work, filling in on cases where local judges are unable to preside because of illness or conflicts of interest.
He also plans to return to some of his more youthful passions from his days of roaming the hills of Greenbrier County.
"I hope to do a little hunting," he said. "I haven't done any fishing for a long time. I used to enjoy fishing."
Keadle and his wife Beverly plan to relocate from Buckhannon to her hometown of Romney, where they met while he was serving as a West Virginia state trooper. After their wedding, he was transferred to the Buckhannon detachment, and he was soon encouraged to go to college and then law school by local attorney Gil Coonts.
"I left to become a freshman at West Virginia University when I was 30," he said. "I graduated in three years and then went to law school.
"I tried to come back to Buckhannon, but there weren't any openings," he recalled. "I went to Romney and practiced with my brother-in-law for seven years before I came back to Buckhannon."
After three years of practicing in Buckhannon, Keadle ran for circuit court judge. Despite being a Democrat in a heavily Republican Upshur County, Keadle won the election, in part because of the other county in the circuit, Lewis, being considered a Democratic county. He has spent the past 28 years on the bench.
"It's time to step down," he said. "I'll miss it. I'll missing seeing the folks in the courthouse, talking to the lawyers."
He contemplated staying through the completion of the new judicial annex in Lewis County, hoping to preside over a case in the new courtroom. His replacement will be selected by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, and Keadle could still be presiding over cases as a senior-status judge until that replacement is in place.
"Six months ago, I wasn't ready to retire," he said. "But two months ago, I knew it was time. It's hard to explain. You just know."
Looking back over his 28 years wearing the black robe, Keadle said he is proudest of two cases, neither of which received tons of fanfare but have had an impact on the community.
He remembered setting up the Hill Stump Trust in the memory of an Adrian man who passed away with a considerable sum of money and only a handwritten will. The man wanted to leave his money to help those who had suffered some sort of traumatic upheaval in their lives. Keadle found a past case that allowed him to create the trust fund.
"I took it upon myself to create a community chest (at a local bank)," he said. "They give out thousands of dollars every year to help people."
Keadle also help to start the Armstrong Trust, doing so after a man with no relatives and a poorly written will passed away with the intentions of helping the blind with his life's savings.
"He had left all of his money to the Upshur County Society for the Blind," Keadle said. "There is no such organization and never had been. The attorney who wrote the will should have known that."
The money from that trust fund is distributed to the various Lions Clubs in Upshur County so that they can help furnish eyeglasses for needy families.
"I figured his intent and purpose was to help those who are visually impaired, and the Lions Club does that," he said.