Former colleagues, family, friends and well wishers clogged the halls leading to Muscogee County Juvenile Court Friday to say farewell to Judge Wayne Jernigan, Sr.
Jernigan, an 11-year veteran of the Juvenile Court, expressed amazement at the love and appreciation poured out during the emotional 45 minute retirement ceremony, in which he was presented with a plaque of appreciation for his service.
"I look out in the audience and I see all these faces I have known and loved all these years, and I love you all," Jernigan said. "You have meant so much to me over all these years."
A grandfather to nine children and great-grandfather to two, Jernigan has served as a municipal judge to several Georgia cities and counties, including Ellaville, Reynolds, Butler County and Hampton County. He resides in Marion County with his wife of 53 years, on a property which Chief Judge Bemon G. McBride, III, noted his family had owned since the late 19th Century.
"I would point out that Judge Jernigan is a family man," McBride said. "He puts his duty to his family at the top of his list. And it's something that his family has done since 1852."
A hard worker, Jernigan toiled through multiple jobs to support his family while maintaining a high grade point average throughout school. He praised his wife during the ceremony, who he said has stuck by him through years of famine and plenty alike.
About a month ago, Jernigan approached Presiding Judge Warner Kennon about his retirement, a moment which Kennon described as bittersweet.
"It was a sad day for me," Kennon said. "He is the salt of the earth. Anything he says, you can take to the bank. I guess he's old school in that way."
During the ceremony, Kennon exalted Jernigan's dedication to his community and his efficiency in tackling difficult tasks within the Juvenile Court.
"Every time I called him about something, the first words out of his mouth was 'How can I help you?' And he meant that," Kennon said. "He had surgery last year and they told him not to get in a car. In two weeks he was back in court, and they had told him not to drive for a month. You couldn't keep a good man down."
With the humility his colleagues had lauded him for, Jernigan expressed surprise and appreciation for the large plaque and huge blue, white and orange cake that had been provided. He joked after the ceremony that the only thing missing was the acknowledgment that his team, Auburn University, will soon be playing for a national title.
"I cannot tell you how overwhelmed I am," Jernigan said. "When y'all were saying all of those wonderful things earlier I was wondering if you were talking about somebody else."