Diana and I wish we could be with you to mark the retirement of a good friend and a great legal warrior, Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge J. Thomas McGrady. I am proud of Tom and his commitment to the law. Over the years he has compiled a tremendous record of success. Simply put, he has made a difference.
It is a bit unusual for a Senator from Wyoming to speak so highly of a retiring Judge from Florida. Over the years I have had a chance to come to know Tom. I feel honored to call him my friend. As is often said, his departure from the bench will leave some large shoes to fill.
Looking back, the script for Tom’s life would have made a great movie. For starters, he was born on Christmas Eve. He turned out to be his parents’ favorite Christmas gift. As he grew up and began to explore the world around him and develop his talents and abilities, his educational pursuits led him to another highlight of his life -- High School – where he met and went on to marry his High School sweetheart, Mary Choquette.
His interest in the law must have started around then because after graduating from the University of Florida with his Bachelor’s degree he then got his Juris Doctor degree, then joined a law firm and started practicing civil litigation. Before long he had opened up his own law firm.
He practiced law for 25 years of his life. He was so good, in fact, that Gov. Bush appointed him county judge. He was then appointed a circuit judge, again by Gov. Bush. Whenever Tom ran for re-election he won – without opposition. People admired him and greatly appreciated his efforts on the bench so much that no one ran against him.
Perhaps the best indication of his ability as a judge and the affection of those with whom he served was his unanimous election by 68 of his judge colleagues to Chief Judge -- three times.
During Tom’s service as chief judge he discovered that with his election came a number of problems – Tom probably called them challenges -- that came packaged together with his new duties. He had to deal with cuts to the court budget, a crisis in mortgage foreclosures, and a number of other issues. He was also working with a system that relied on old and outdated technologies - to name but a few of the matters that successfully required his attention as chief judge.
Probably the biggest problem was a shortage of funds to run the courts. Things were so bad it looked like drastic measures would have to be taken to keep the courts up and running.
He came up with an option to obtain a loan from the governor and the legislature. Without it there would have to be cuts, furloughs and much more.
He received a great reception when he shared the details of the problem with those who would be most affected, judges and staff. They appreciated his blunt assessment of how bad things were as Tom put it, “not because of what I had to say, but because I would even come and tell them.”
Tom is a straight shooter and he knew that the best antidote for the impact of bad news is not to sugar coat it – but to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” It also helped that Tom had established a reputation over the years for being a gentle man and a gentleman and his honesty, sincerity, good humor and concern for his colleagues and staffers earned him a lot of good will.
Now that Tom has decided to retire and sit back, he will have more time to share with his family and friends. I know they’ll enjoy being with him and having more time to share with him – especially his grandchildren who will love having "Papa" around a little more often.
In the end, that’s what it’s all about – time - time for faith family and friends. Time is the most valuable and precious asset we have and how we choose to spend it and the quality of those activities that consume the most of our time says a lot about the quality of our lives.
I once heard about a guy who traveled around the world doing research on what people were thinking about as they grew older. There were a lot of interesting thoughts they shared but one of the more frequent comments was about spending more time with family. No one said, "I wish I’d spent more time at work."
So -- as the old film title says so well, Tom has already had “a wonderful life” with so much more to come. He has made the most of every moment and every day of it. Mary, his sweetheart from his high school days is still by his side, retired from her days as a school teacher. Now they will spend time enjoying all that life has to offer – Tom and Mary, you have both truly earned it.
Congratulations, Tom McGrady. You have been a great judge and you have made a difference in more lives than you will ever know. We could all learn a lot from you and the way you have lived your life. God bless.