In the summer of 1969, the astronauts landed on the moon, Andrew Miller and Henry Howell were fighting for statewide nominations, Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge on an island, and Emory Widener became a federal judge. On the latter, the Bristol paper reported this:
"In impressive ceremonies punctuated by laughter, H. Emory Widener, Jr., of Bristol yesterday received the oath of office as federal judge for the Western District of Virginia.
And Widener, grinning widely and obviously deeply moved by the event, said presiding over the sprawling district, which runs from Lee County to Winchester and contains half a million residents, is 'a sobering thought. I have no profound statement but I am just as happy as I can be.'
Widener received the oath from Chief Western District Judge Ted Dalton of Radfod. Widener and Dalton be chiefly responsible for presiding over federal court cases in Western Virginia, although retired Senior Judge A.D. Barksdale of Lynchburg can still hear cases of his own choosing.
The ceremonies, preceded by brief remarks by a number of Widener's associate's and friends, took place in the federal building on Main Street here. An estimated 300 persons attended the administering of the oath and a reception in Widener's honor at the Martha Washington Inn.
For Widener, who hears his first cases in Abingdon Monday, it was the culmination of a drive begun in January in his behalf. He fills the vacancy of retired Judge Thomas J. Michie of Charlottesville, who was appointed in 1961 by President Kennedy and who stepped down in 1967 due to illness.
After President Nixon was inaugurated on Jan. 20 the drive to place Widener on the bench began in earnest and was climaxed by his nomination by Nixon and confirmation about two weeks ago on the floor of the Senate.
Widener, after repeating the oath and being helped into the judicial robes, paid tribute to many persons who had assisted him in getting the $42,000 per year lifetime appointment.
'I must thank my close friend, Congressman William Wampler, who worked so hard on my behalf, and all of the local bar associations, both Virginia U.S. Senators Harry Byrd, Jr., and William Spong, Jr.,' he said.
'I also want to thank four women who have worked so hard for me over the years - Miss Judy Beth Entler, Miss Lisa Sevier, Miss Katy Minnick, and my secretary, August Weller,' he said.
'I feel quite inadequate in the face of all the oratory that has preceded my taking the oath. I might say, however, that it is not true that lawyers and judges get together and pick someond for this job but they can get together and keep someone from getting it. I want to personally thank them all for their kindness in my behalf.'
Judge Dalton said that Widener's father, the late H.E. Widener, Sr., was one of the most respected jurists in Southwest Virginia. 'We know that at the hands of this son our people and our district will receive just benefits,' he said.
'We might, however, recommend to Judge Widener four things four things that are essential for a judge to remember. He must have patience, humility, practice equal justice, and should view this honored position as an opportunity of service to others,' he said.
Widener then slowly but distinctly repeated after Dalton the following oath . . . .
Widener is the first federal judge in history to come from Bristol.
Dalton told Widener that he received 'the judgeship of what is the greatest district in the United States and it comes a few hours after man has walked on the moon.'
Widener was visibly moved earlier when Wampler, among those in attendance, said that, besides his parents, the late Mr. Widener had had the most profound influence on him.
Widener was associated with his father in law practice in Bristol until the elder Widener's death and, in recent years, had been a partner with David Frackleton. Upon receiving the judgeship, he disoolved the partnership but it will remain Widener and Frackleton in honor or his father.
Widener, who twice managed the successful campaigns of Wampler, also resigned as Ninth District Republican chairman. The GOP District Committee last night in Abingdon elected Billy Frazier of Scott County to succeed Widener.
'I am delighted to share with you the historic significance of this occasion. I wish for Judge Widener much happiness and good fortune and God's blessings,' Wampler said, his voice betraying emotion.
Others who paid tribute included State Sen. George Warren Jr. of Bristol, visiting Judge John Hayes of middle district of North Carolina, Circuit Judge Aubrey Matthews, and John Dabney Carr of Roanoke representing the American Bar Association. Notes of tribute were acknowledged from Eastern District Judge Robert R. Merhige, who has presided in Abingdon, and Chief Judge Clement Haynsworth Jr. of Greenville, S.C., of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Warren, representing the Washington County and Bristol bar associations and a close personal friend of Widener, said, 'It is appropriate that this host of friends and distinguished guests have assebled here today to share in some degree with him their joy and price in a great personal accomplishment.'
Warren said Widener for 16 years has practiced law and is widely acquainted throughout the area and the state. 'And while his gratitude for the great honor is shared by many friends, it is understandable that this is a particularly proud day for the bar and the people of Bristol,' he said.
Warren said the court was established by Congress in the early 1800's and the first Judge was Isaac C. Pennybaker appointed by President Van Buren in 1839.
He said he was succeeded by John W. Brockenborough of Lexington, named by President James Polk in 1846, and the third judge was Alexander Rives, named in 1871 by President Grant.
Warren said for an interim period following the death of Judge Rives the court was served by Judge Robert W. Hughes of the Eastern District.
He said Judge John Paul was named by President Chester Arthur in 1893 and served until 1901 at which time Judge Henry C. McDowell was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Judge McDowell served until his death in 1932, according to Warren, and was succeeded by Judge John Paul II appointed by President Hoover. Judge Paul served for almost 30 years until his retirement in 1961 and was a senior retired judge until his death a few years ago."