Judge’s legacy enshrined with courtroom portrait

Jeff Branick, Pet Gerson and Gerald Eddins

Judge Alfred S. Gerson’s family and friends remember him for his timeliness, among other achievements.

“That clock was his best friend, so I’ll keep an eye on it because I don’t want to be moved to the bottom of the docket call,” his grandson Reagan Rothenberger said during Gerson’s portrait unveiling ceremony Oct. 10.

The friends and family gathered in the courtroom laughed.

Before Gerson became a judge, he fought in World War II, serving in Guam, and was a survivor of the infamous Texas City explosion of 1947 — the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history — that killed his father and injured his mother while in their family restaurant, his grandson explained.

He served 27 years as Jefferson County’s judge for County Court at Law No. 1 before retiring in 2011, in addition to 30 years of serving in the Texas National Guard, according to his 2013 obituary.

Rothenberger explained that his grandfather believed that judges should look stern, and most pictures of the former judge reflect this.

However, his family felt these images didn’t fully demonstrate Gerson’s personality, especially his “infectious smile.”

“Considering this picture will most likely be up on the wall as long as this massive fireproof and apparently flood and hurricane proof Art Deco edifice stands, it’s probably best we found a picture more appealing,” Rothenberger said.

The Honorable Gerald Eddins and Pet Gerson, the late judge’s wife, unveiled the painting.

“I think that he’s been one of the best judges that we’ve had in this county, and we’ve had some real good ones,” Eddins said in his address. “He was fair-minded, patient, always had a good sense of humor, and he remained strictly impartial.

“His name was Al S. Gerson, and we knew that the S stood for Sterling, but … if you really examine his life and think about it, his name very well could have easily been Al ‘Service’ Gerson.”

Gerson faced other difficulties besides combat and a deadly explosion, his grandson told the crowd gathered to remember him.

A sailor tried to murder Gerson while he was in the merchant marine, his famous gun collection burned along with his house in the late ’70s, and he lost his first race for the 279th District Court, Rothenberger said.

“The man had his rough times,” Rothenberger said, adding, “In Southeast Texas today, we are facing hardships we never thought we’d face. I’ve been going through some rough stuff myself, but when I think I’ve got it tough, I look back on his life and see the many crucibles he endured to become the man he was.”

“It’s fitting that his picture is the first to be hung up there,” Eddins said after the ceremony. “It sets the standard.”