Pcts. 1 and 4 Justice of the Peace David Gray is set to retire May 31, with former JP Mary Sue Kiper taking his place as interim justice of the peace until the end of the year.
Panola County commissioners appointed Kiper to fill the vacancy at their May 12 meeting, saying a permanent replacement would be elected in the November elections. Those wishing to run for the JP seat in November will need to be nominated by either the county Republican Party or Democratic Party committees.
“Let me explain,” Judge Lee Ann Jones said. “Anybody that is interested in being a nominee for this opening needs to see Cheyenne (Lampley) as soon as possible. The way this is going to work, since it’s an unfilled term and since the election is in November, you can’t just go pay a fee and be signed up. You have to be nominated to be on the ballot by the Republican Party committee and the Democratic Party committee, and to do that you’ll need to see Cheyenne. She’ll have all the information.”
Gray has spent more than 30 years serving his community, from starting at the Panola County Sheriff’s Office in 1989 to being elected as JP in 2008. He has spent 12 years in the justice of the peace position.
Gray said that he felt like now was the time to retire, and it’s been his plan for a long time to retire young.
“My dad died at an early age, and I always told myself that I would try to retire earlier, try to enjoy a little bit of life,” Gray said.
Gray isn’t certain he’s done working entirely, but his plans for now are to take some time off and to spend more time with his family — in particular his son, who will be graduating from Panola College this December and plans to attend Sam Houston State University.
“He’s following in my footsteps to do criminal justice, so, you know, spend a little time with him before he leaves to go off to school,” Gray said. “I have about six months to do that. Try to spend a little bit more time with him and help him transition in his life to the criminal justice phase or whatever he wants to do. Other than that I don’t know.”
Gray said he has enjoyed his time as justice of the peace.
“I’ve grown with the job. Coming from law enforcement, I had to move myself from an enforcement side to being neutral,” he said. “I think I transitioned well over to it and was able to help a lot of people along the way in this position. ...It’s been fun. Working the desk, I wouldn’t say that that part was necessarily fun, but I got to meet a lot of good people and was able to hopefully help them at a time when their times are the darkest, when they’ve lost a loved one or things like that. If I’ve just helped one person along the way it’s made it all worthwhile, and I feel like I’ve done that.”
Gray said he’s considers himself just a part of the team and is incredibly thankful to the people who have helped him along the way.
“I have a lot of people to thank for getting me where I am today,” he said. “It wasn’t me; it’s by the grace of God that I’ve lived through certain situations as a cop and was gracious enough to be elected. I definitely appreciate the people that put me here. It’s very humbling to be elected to anything, to put your name out there and somebody take the time to check mark your name; I appreciate that a whole lot, and I’ve always done my best to do the right thing for the people, and I do take great pride in that.”
Mary Sue Kiper
Gray’s interim replacement, Mary Sue Kiper, has experience in the office. She began work at the courthouse as a civil clerk in May 2000 and was appointed to fill Pat Davis’s justice of the peace seat when Davis retired in July 2007. Kiper served as a JP until November 2008.
“I had ran for the position but lost to Judge Gray,” Kiper said. “And then after that, I went back to my civil clerk job and worked for Judge Gray and Judge Taylor at that time and have until he’d decided to go home, so then I was civil clerk for Judge Hughes and Judge Gray. Then on June 1 I will step back into Justice of the Peace for Precincts 1 and 4.”
Kiper is excited to step back into her old role.
“When I was JP before, I loved it,” she said. “It was a a very satisfying job to be able to help people and everything. It just was. So I was like ‘OK, it’s my chance once again to step in there and help again.’ So I’m very excited about it.”