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Southern Sage follows the career of a small town lawyer to the Florida House of Representatives, Florida Senate, Circuit Court Judge and finally the Appellate Court.The narrative style takes the reader into the court room where Woodrow Melvin displayed his wisdom, compassion and firmness as a representative for justice on the bench.
Southern Sage: The Honorable Woodrow Melvin
How many attorneys who start as small town lawyers end their careers as a judge on the Appellate Court? Woodrow Melvin’s passion for the law takes him on a journey into the courts of Florida as well as the State House of Representatives and the State Senate.
The stories Woodrow tells from his twenty years working as a circuit court judge are charged with emotion as the reader sees the gut-wrenching decisions he must make whether it be a life-changing child custody case or the life-sentencing of a hardened criminal.
Anecdotes, shared by his family, friends, and peers show Woodrow as a man of conviction, fairness, humility and humor. A familiar down-home, southern phrase often heard from him by attorneys when discussing a case goes like this, “You know, I don’t believe that dog will hunt.”
The legacy of this hard-working public servant continues to touch the lives of Floridians to this day, especially, in the areas of public health and education.
The old cliché, ‘Home town boy makes good’ more than applies to Woodrow M. Melvin.
Introduction by Sylvia Melvin
For more than twenty years, the name Woodrow Melvin meant little to me. Since we lived many miles apart, I’d never met him, spoke to him or even seen a photo of him. All I knew about this man was that he lived in Florida, he was a judge and my husband was his nephew. In August of 1993, after our family moved to Florida, I met Woodrow on a sultry, Sunday morning in a little country church. Sitting in the pew beside me was a senior gentleman that looked like a man in a family photo I’d recently found. After the service, I leaned over and asked, “Excuse me, are you Judge Melvin?”
From the moment his face broke into that warm, welcoming smile, I felt I’d met a friend. The invitation to ‘come on down’ and visit him and Aunt Nita, his wife, was sincere and I accepted with anticipation. Within minutes we began catching up on each other’s lives and any formality dissipated with laughter and conversation. After the hugs and good-byes, the door was not closed behind me but instead, Uncle Woodrow and Aunt Nita stood on the porch and watched me get safely into my car. As I swung around in the driveway, I looked back once more and they waved a last adieu. In the ensuing months, the ritual did not change; I came to realize a visitor was always welcomed at their door and never rushed away. It made a warm impression upon my heart.
As I got to know Uncle Woodrow, and learned more about his life in public service, I realized here was a man who made a difference in the lives of the people of Florida. But not everyone was privileged as I was to sit and hear the stories of the early years of practicing law, the many sessions he spent helping to shape state laws or the multitude of criminal and civil court cases he heard as a Circuit Court Judge. Due to Uncle Woodrow’s failing health, history was slipping through the fingers of Santa Rosa County. Someone needed to compile a record of this man’s accomplishments. As a free-lance writer, I welcomed the task.
Peeling away the layers of time through the research was a journey that not only educated and enlightened me but revealed insight into the personality of a man, who because of his modest nature, never boasted of his servitude. Family scrapbooks, newspaper articles, micro-film, interviews with secretaries, court clerks, lawyers, judges, family and friends presented a wealth of information. The most valuable source was Woodrow himself. As he responded to the questions I asked, memories of years gone by came to light and I was able to record his personal reaction to whatever the particular circumstance. At times, his body language verbalized as plainly as the spoken word.
In order to give a well-rounded picture of Woodrow’s life, I felt it necessary to bring the reader along historically, too. Therefore, references are made to the many newspaper articles written about important issues he was involved in.
I have only one regret; our time together was too short— Woodrow died sixteen months after our first meeting. There was so much more about the man I wanted to know.
Thank you Uncle Woodrow, for showing me not only the meaning of genuine southern hospitality, but also a true Southern Gentleman.