HIGH POINT — Friends and colleagues said Monday that Chief District Court Judge Tom Jarrell’s unexpected death has left “a big hole” in the courthouse community as they fondly remembered the 56-year-old’s friendship, leadership and stewardship of the judicial system.
The High Point native died Saturday night at his home, leaving behind more than two decades’ worth of public service.
“He gave a lot to the people of Guilford County,” said Howard Neumann, the former chief assistant district attorney.
Sharon Gladwell, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, said Gov. Roy Cooper will appoint someone to fill Jarrell’s seat.
“We are deeply saddened at the sudden loss of Judge Tom Jarrell of Guilford County, who served justice and his community with unparalleled dedication,” Cooper said in a statement. “Our state has lost a true public servant.”
Jarrell celebrated his 20th year as a District Court judge this month, a position he was appointed to in 1999 following the resignation of Judge Charles “Chuck” White.
Jarrell served as president of the North Carolina Association of District Court Judges and on a variety of boards, including the N.C. Governors Crime Commission.
He also helped create Street Safe, a program that allows young people to learn proper driving techniques from law enforcement.
Jarrell is survived by his mother, Mary; wife, Cindy; and three sons: Thomas, Robert and David.
He also leaves behind friends and co-workers that respect and revere him.
Joe Craig is among them. The Guilford County Senior Resident Superior Court judge said Jarrell “was indispensable to the justice system.”
“I’m just devastated as is the entire courthouse personnel,” he said.
Craig said it’s even more of “a personal loss” because he wanted Jarrell to succeed him.
“I think that the county and the courthouse family lost one of the most important members of our group and it’s a terrible tragedy for me,” Craig admitted. “He’s one of those few people to me that seems irreplaceable.”
Jarrell got into politics following in the footsteps of his mother, a retired state legislator. Mary Jarrell’s last three campaigns were run by Guilford County Commissioner Kay Cashion.
“He was the epitome of what honorable stands for,” said Cashion, who choked up while recounting the judge’s contributions.
“I don’t think anyone ever questioned his judgement.”
Jarrell attended Guilford College and later Campbell University. He spent three years working in private practice before joining the Guilford County District Attorney’s office.
“He immediately proved himself as an effective prosecutor before continuing his career from the bench,” said Steve Cole, a chief assistant district attorney who knew Jarrell early in his career. “It is difficult to find the words that express how much he will be missed.”
Vic Maynard grew up with Jarrell and knew him since the fourth grade.
“He was an ally to all law enforcement and first responders,” said Maynard, a deputy chief colonel with the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office. “Most of all, he was a brother to me.”
Former District Attorney Doug Henderson remembered Jarrell for his enthusiasm both in the courtroom and in life.
“He had a good heart,” Henderson said. “It was probably his heart that gave out.
“He used it all up.”