There’s an empty space in the courtrooms in Salem and Roanoke County these days. And there’s an enormous hole in the hearts of the people who work there and used to.
The missing piece is Murry White, a longtime court watcher for more than 30 years who sat through so many cases that attorneys often asked him for advice.
Mr. White died at 98 on March 31 after two massive strokes. I thought he would live forever. The man had a phenomenal memory about growing up in Salem and what had changed over the years. I learned so much from him.
He grew up next to the former Virginia Baptist Children’s Home, now HopeTree Family Services, where his father oversaw the children’s home farm. He graduated from old Salem High School and had clear memories of both.
When I first went to cover court trials almost 14 years ago, Mr. White and his wife, Suzee, were there. They were so much a part of the Salem Courthouse family that staff gave them a 60th wedding anniversary party, right there in the Salem Circuit Courtroom. The Whites didn’t have any children, and judges, clerks, deputies and other personnel were their family.
Suzee passed away four years later. Mr. White grieved for her every day afterward, but he kept going.
On May 22, 2012, Mr. White was made an honorary member of the Roanoke County and Salem Bar. General District Court Judge Vincent A. Lilley presided over that ceremony, with retired Judge George W. Harris Jr. assisting.
The proclamation called Mr. White “An invaluable resource to many local attorneys on issues such as jury selection, witness evaluation, and overall case strategy.”
When I called up those pictures from our files, Mr. White looked like a deer caught in the headlights. He was surprised and definitely moved by the honor.
“I don’t deserve all the praise,” he told the crowd.
Mr. White probably had more courtroom experience than most of the attorneys and judges in the area and had attended more trials than he could count. Sometimes he and Suzee went to court five days a week. They sat in on cases as far away as the grisly Jens Soering double murder trial in Bedford County and Leesburg for the re-trial of a Salem businessman charged in his wife’s death.
Although she wasn’t a blood relative, recently retired Salem Victim Witness Advocate Katrina Johnson was Mr. White’s daughter.
“The day Katrina adopted him was the beginning of some of the best times for him,” said Salem Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Ferguson. Johnson spent time with Mr. White and cooked homemade meals for him after he moved a couple of years ago into independent living at Richfield Retirement Community from his and Suzee’s home on West Riverside Drive near Wabun.
On Mr. White’s final journey from Lotz Salem Chapel to Sherwood Memorial Park, officers carried him. Ferguson was a pallbearer, along with retired Virginia State Police Officer Bo Childress, Salem Police Detective Mike Early, Police Officer Chris Shelor and Lt.Todd Clayton. Salem Sheriff Chief Deputy David Rorer, who is also a pastor, performed the service.
Mr. White was laid to rest on April 4 in Sherwood Memorial Park in Salem, with Masonic Rites by Taylor Lodge No. 23 where he was a member for 65 years.
The courtroom seems so empty now, but I know Mr. White is watching.