By SHERRY DIGMON
The retirement ceremony for Escambia County Presiding Judge Bert Rice was anything but somber. Laughter filled Courtroom One at the Brewton Courthouse as Judge Rice was honored – and also slightly roasted.
The ceremony and reception were held Thursday afternoon, January 31, with the judge’s family and dozens of co-workers and well-wishers in attendance.
Attorney Wade Hartley, president of the Escambia County Bar Association, welcomed everyone and introduced Judge Rice’s family – wife Jan, daughter Emily Rice Conte, sons Allen Rice and Matthew Rice, brother Glenn, and grandson Kealen Conte.
Following his remarks, Hartley presented Rice with a plaque, then with a gift. Hartley said the gift for a retiree is usually something indicative of a person’s hobby, like fishing or hunting. But in light of Rice’s affinity for technology, the bar association presented him with a gift card to the Apple Store.
Former District Attorney Mike Godwin spoke briefly and ended with a quote by Mark Twain: “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” And that was Bert Rice.
Emily, who is also a lawyer, was next to speak. She said her dad’s retirement is an exciting time but also bitter sweet.
She talked about life at home when she and her brothers were growing up.
“He taught us the importance of being available,” Emily said. “Our phone number was published in the phone book and people called him. He said they were calling because they were having the worst day or night of their life … He’s a hard worker, and his work ethic has helped us.”
But there was a life-work balance she said, as her dad always tried to get to their events.
“He came to our games as much as he could and that was a lot with three of us,” Emily said. “You could tell who our dad was – he was the one in the suit.”
Two of the three Rice kids went to law school.
Emily talked about sitting in the back of the courtroom, as a young adult, reading law books, recalling the “creaks of pews and the smell of old books.”
“It’s hard to imagine a better education than I got right here and from my dad,” she said.
Attorney Earnie White, the official poet laureate of the Escambia County Bar Association, read an original poem peppered with humor.
When Judge Rice spoke, he thanked the judicial staff, then turned to the judges – Brad Byrne (retired), Dave Jordan, Jeff White, Eric Coale, and Doug Agerton.
“These are our friends and I recognize what they face on a daily basis,” Judge Rice said. “The human events that happen in this room are off the charts. It’s life being played out … Pray for us. Remember, we’re just human.”
And turning to his wife, he said they will celebrate their 48th anniversary this summer.
“She has been the foundation – the rock,” he said. “The Lord has blessed us.”
Just prior to his benediction, the Rev. Jim Thorpe, who is the Rices’ pastor at First Presbyterian Church, said, “How he has been described here, is all he does at our church.”