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Bibb County judges’ ‘right hand’ set to retire at 84

There haven’t been many days when Claxton Walker wasn’t either working or at school.

He started working at age 8, picking cotton and milking cows on his parents’ sharecropping farm in Laurens County.

Come Friday, the 84-year-old will leave his bailiff’s job at the Bibb County Courthouse to devote more time to his church, family and vegetable garden. He also hopes to cheer on the Georgia Bulldogs football team to a national championship.

He put in for the courthouse post 23 years ago at the suggestion of then-Sheriff Ray Wilkes after the lawman told him, “You don’t need to retire. You need to go down and be a bailiff.”

Ushering judges in and out and helping run courtrooms during trials, Walker has witnessed every kind of hearing there is.

Known as “Mr. Walker” on the third floor, he’s worked for judges presiding over everything from high-profile murder and drug cases to divorces and child custody matters.

Born in 1931, Walker was raised in the Lovett community, about eight miles or so off U.S. 80 in Laurens County.

In 1948, he was one of Brewton High School’s 17 graduates.

Working his way through Georgia Teachers College in Statesboro -- now Georgia Southern University -- Walker woke at 6 a.m. to set out bottled milk for students in the dining hall.

He aspired to be a school coach and studied health, physical education and biological science.

Walker had played high school sports -- basketball and baseball -- and described his younger self as an “average player.”

“I wasn’t a star or anything like that,” he said. “I always liked sports.”

Months after graduation, Walker was drafted into the Army, where he worked as a supply sergeant in Korea, helping supply the front lines.

When he returned home, Walker went to work at his alma mater, Brewton High, and coached the basketball team to the school’s first state basketball tournament in 1955.

“We were simply lucky,” he said.

After two years, Walker went to the University of Georgia. Using the GI Bill, he got a master’s degree in school administration.

He had hopes of one day becoming a school principal and knew he’d need the degree.

In 1957, he married Marshie Watson, a Laurens County girl, and started work at East Laurens High School. Several Laurens County schools, including Brewton High, consolidated that year to form East Laurens High.

He worked to start a football program at the school before moving to Macon in 1960 to teach at Dudley Hughes Vocational School. Five years later, he was hired as principal at Bruce Elementary.

He tried his hand at retirement in 1990, leaving a post he’d held since 1979 as principal at Weir Elementary School. Soon, though, he filled a temporary counseling position at the Dismas House, working with inmates who were re-entering society.

He’d left that job by the time Wilkes called.

Walker said his first job as bailiff was to call witnesses for the Teresa Fargason murder trial in 1993. Jurors sentenced Fargason to a life sentence in the slaying of her 6-year-old daughter, Taylor.

Looking back, Walker said he didn’t intend to stay on long.

“It gave me something to do that I could do at my age.”

‘QUIET PATIENCE AND WISDOM’

When Martha Christian was appointed to the Superior Court bench in 1994, Walker became her “bar bailiff.” They worked together until her retirement in 2011.

Stern at times but always polite, he nearly always kept his composure in check.

Christian described Walker as a quiet, reserved gentleman “in the old sense of the word” and her “right hand” while she was on the bench.

“He was so good at anticipating what I needed,” she said. “All I would have to do was to nod at him and he would know what to do.”

A little more than three years ago, Walker went to work for the judge that took her place, Phillip Raymond.

Raymond recalls being sworn in on a Thursday and presiding over temporary protective order hearings the next day.

It might sound basic, but knowing when to walk in isn’t automatic, the judge said.

“He walked me through the basics of what a judge is supposed to do to go and get on the bench and off.”

Walker always checked to be sure the attorneys were in place and ready before ushering the judge in.

When the courtroom gets loud and unruly, he doesn’t hesitate to walk over and ask folks to quiet down and act appropriately, Raymond said.

And the little things count. Each morning, water bottles on the corner of Raymond’s desk signals whether Walker is on duty that day. He’s always there early and sets them up.

Raymond describes Walker as “a very thoughtful man” with a determination to do his job well.

“He has been an inspiration by carrying himself with a quiet patience and wisdom,” he said.

Looking forward, Walker said he isn’t concerned about whether he’ll get bored or run out of things to do.

“I’ve been told, ‘you’ll be doing something else’,” he said the other day. “But I won’t.”

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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