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Franklin County remembers 34th circuit judge Terry Lee Dempsey

“Judge Terry Dempsey will be greatly missed, not only at the courthouse but also by our entire community. He had many characteristics that made him a great judge and a wonderful person.”

Those are the thoughts of Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing, and they are shared by many as the community mourns one of its own. Dempsey, 55, of Spruce Pine, who served as Franklin County circuit judge, passed away Feb. 17 at UAB Hospital after a brief illness.

“He was very professional, fair and humble,” said Franklin County Probate Judge Barry Moore. “I am glad to have called him a friend, and it was an honor to work with him at the courthouse.”

Russellville attorney Rebecca Green Thomason describes him as a great person and a fair and honest judge. “That’s an unusual combination, and I can’t voice how much he is missed.”

Franklin County Commissioner Chris Wallace recalled their days spent attending Northwest Alabama Junior College together, along with years of knowing his family. “He was a great guy from a wonderful family. I think of him as a friend and a good judge. He will be greatly missed.”

Dempsey touched the lives of many people but most importantly those of his family and friends. He played many roles throughout his life, but above all, those who knew him best said he was a loving father, son, brother and friend. He will be greatly missed by many and forever live on in memories.

“I knew him a long time, and he was a good person and a good friend,” explained Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver. “As a judge, he was fair and impartial. He will be missed both personally and professionally by many.”

Phil Campbell City Councilman Phillip King echoed the sentiments. “He was honest and fair, and he treated everyone as he would want to be treated, both as a friend and as a judge.

“He never assumed anything about anyone, and he always put himself in the place of the person being tried and sentenced,” King added. “Judge Dempsey left his mark by the way he treated everyone, and he will be greatly missed by very many people indeed.”

Russellville city attorney Danny McDowell explained that Dempsey’s demeanor served him well in having to deal with the difficult period brought on by COVID protocols, affecting how he had to carry out his judicial responsibilities.

“He adapted well to dealing with the challenges of having to work remotely and use Zoom,” McDowell said, “an especially challenging factor for conducting court.”

Before Dempsey was elected as the 34th circuit judge in Franklin County, he was the valedictorian of his class, graduating in 1985 from Belgreen High School.

He subsequently graduated from Northwest Alabama Junior College in 1987, going on to receive a political science degree from the University of Alabama in 1989 and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1992. He practiced law in Russellville as a partner at Lowery & Dempsey.   

Rushing cited Dempsey’s traits of being patient and slow to anger as qualities that served him well on and off the bench.

“As a judge, he had to deal with arguing lawyers and angry litigants on a daily basis, and he always stayed calm and professional, no matter the circumstances,” Rushing said. “He could defuse tense situations with his firm but kind demeanor. He had a great sense of humor that made him a lot of fun to be around.”

Rushing added Dempsey had a good-spirited nature and a strong dedication to friends and family, as well as a strong work ethic.

“He was just an all-around great person who made a truly positive impact in a lot of folks’ lives. The next circuit judge in this county will have big shoes to fill indeed.”

Spry Memorial Chapel assisted the family. The visitation and service took place Feb. 21, with Bo Loyd and Todd Owen officiating. Dempsey was buried at Mountain Home Cemetery in Glasgow Corner.

He was preceded in death his grandparents, Braxton and Katherine Dempsey and Virmon and Estelle Hatton. He leaves behind his fiancée, Julie Allen; children, Braxton Lee Dempsey, Katie Dempsey Cantrell (Collier), Gracie Dempsey and Emma Dempsey; parents, Sharline and Terry Dempsey; sister, Karen Jones; and many more family members and friends.

A scholarship is being established in Dempsey’s memory. Donations can be mailed to 2036 Highway 52, Russellville, AL 35653. A scholarship account will be set up at a later date.

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