THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, March 26, 1995 TAG: 9503250138 SECTION: CHESAPEAKE CLIPPER PAGE: 11 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Cover Story SOURCE: BY ANGELITA PLEMMER, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: Long : 115 lines
After a long week of teaching law at the University of Virginia, S. Bernard Goodwyn quickly parks his Audi across from the dilapidated 1971 brown Pinto. The junker sits next to an occupied chicken coop on his parents' 30-acre farm.
A gift from his wife's parents, the Pinto was his only mode of transportation when he started as a first-year law student at U.Va. in 1982.
Now, along with family scrapbooks filled with memorabilia, it's just another reminder of hard times he has left behind.
``I loved growing up in Southampton County,'' Goodwyn said. ``People there in general are just honest hard-working people. And I want to be like the people I grew up around.''
It's a two-hour drive from Charlottesville, where he received a one-year appointment as a visiting professor. But accompanied by his wife, Sharon, and their 3-year-old son, Sammy, the trip is a small sacrifice. For the ritual homecoming every first and third Sunday of the month, they head to Samuel and Dolly Goodwyn's modest retirement homestead in Branchville, less than a mile away from the North Carolina border.
But this Sunday is a special homecoming. This time, he's coming home as the first African-American judge appointed to Chesapeake's formerly all-white, all male bench.
Dolly Goodwyn, an energetic and determined 70-year-old, has prepared a huge spread - turkey, ham, barbecued ribs, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, baked potatoes, string beans, corn bread, baked rolls, cakes and pies.
``He doesn't act like a big time lawyer, and I think that's the best way to be,'' she said, handing him a platter of rolls. ``People 'round here just love Bernard.''
Lois and Rufus Murphy, encamped in the den with Goodwyn's father, drove from Courtland to see their nephew, ``The Judge.''
``You've got to hang in there and keep on keeping on,'' Lois told him.
``And you,'' she said to Goodwyn's father, a retired carpenter, ``you all planted that seed. It's the kind of thing that makes you feel good.''
``Most everybody says he's just like I was,'' said the elder Goodwyn, with a chuckle. ``When I was growing up, I've always been a fellow to learn wherever I go.''
Unpretentious with a quick wit, Bernard has managed to garner all of the trapping of success.
Harvard-educated and a graduate of the University of Virginia's School of Law, Goodwyn easily makes a six-figure income as partner at Wilcox and Savage, one of Norfolk's most prestigious law firms where he handles civil, commercial and civil rights litigation. And he's a substitute judge in Chesapeake.
But in his most recent accomplishment, at age 34, he has made history as the first black judge. His appointment, which begins July 1, will be to General District Court.
``I have no agenda,'' he said. ``The only interest I have is being a good judge and a contributing member of the community.''
A native of Boykins, Goodwyn's nomination led to a bitter debate among black community leaders who had lobbied for years to change the face of the city's judiciary with an African-American appointment. The opportunity finally arrived when Judge William L. Forbes announced his retirement from the Circuit Court bench in January. Legislators elevated District Court Judge V. Thomas Forehand to the higher court, creating a vacancy in the lower court.
During the selection process, critics emerged, saying that Goodwyn, who was not a native of Chesapeake, was unfamiliar with the concerns of African-Americans in Chesapeake and out-of-touch with black concerns in general.
``If you have no connection with the black community in Chesapeake . . . how can you be considered for a judgeship,'' asked Paul Gillis, area II chairman for the NAACP. ``You have to look at the individual and what has he done in the community.''
But Goodwyn, who has lived in Chesapeake since 1988, said his rural upbringing, community service in the city, and legal training should speak for itself.
``I don't understand a lot of people's concerns (about me),'' Goodwyn said. ``I've always thought I was very involved in the community and will continue to be.''
``I have not purposefully attempted to curry political favor with anybody,'' he said, but ``my door is open, and I'm available to the community.''
Others in the community agree that while he may not be very visible, his good works impact the community.
``It does bring a sense of great joy to those who now feel at least we have someone who can empathize with the peculiar role that we African Americans play in the overall body politic,'' said Hugo Owens, a longtime political activist and one of the first African-Americans on City Council.
``Bernard happened not to have been a person who had founded Chesapeake Forward or had been highly visible in all of the affairs, but Bernard happens to be one of us and he certainly knows what it's like to deal with a system that's loaded against him,'' Owens said.
``I've always wanted to be a lawyer,'' Goodwyn said. ``I was always interested in politics and the politicians I knew were lawyers,'' he added. ``I think that I'm a good listener, and I tend not to get too worked up or emotional.''
``I realized being a judge would allow me to be involved in the community.'' ILLUSTRATION: [Cover]
Two New Judges For Chesapeake
Staff photo by BETH BERGMAN
S. Bernard Goodwyn of General District Court
Staff photo by BETH BERGMAN
``I have not purposefully attempted to curry political favor with
anybody,'' but ``my door is open, and I'm available to the
- S. Bernard Goodwyn
KEYWORDS: PROFILE BIOGRAPHY JUDGESHIP APPOINTMENT by CNB