Colleagues remembered former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold G. Clarke, who died Tuesday at 85, as a generous gentleman who made a point to raise the standards for the legal profession in Georgia.
"It was my honor and privilege to serve with this towering figure of a man," said the current chief justice, Carol Hunstein, in a written statement. "Justice Clarke was not only a great jurist, but he was a quiet, strong leader of principle and the kindest man I have ever known."
Former Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears recalled Clarke creating a smooth transition when in 1992 she became the first female and second African-American justice on the court.
"I was terrified. He ushered me in," said Sears. "He could have made me find my way on my own, but he didn't."
Sears said Clarke wanted the public to know the court was changing its makeup. "He had his car and driver take me to speak at a church. He wanted people to see a black woman justice," she said.
U.S. District Senior Judge Willis Hunt Jr., who served with Clarke on the state high court, echoed Sears' comments about Clarke's handling the court in the midst of change.
"For years it had been occupied by seven middle-aged white men," said Hunt, but within a few years it had two African-Americans [Robert Benham and Sears] and two women [Sears and Hunstein]. "Through Clarke's effortless management these new members were included in everything."
Hunt and another former justice, George Carley, said Clarke might be most remembered in the legal field for laying the foundation for the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism.
"This has gotten to be a big deal and been adopted by many states," Hunt said.
Clarke didn't think it was enough that lawyers were ethical, Carley said. He thought there should be a high level of professionalism associated with being an attorney.