Sturgeon remembered as great mentor

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 22, 2010

NATCHEZ — Known equally for his signature bushy eyebrows and his amazing intellect, former District Attorney Alonzo Sturgeon left the world a better place, his former colleagues said Tuesday.

The impact Sturgeon left on the justice system in Southwest Mississippi can be seen in almost every corner of the Adams County courthouse.

Sturgeon’s career as District Attorney for the 6th Circuit Court District spanned 17 years. In that time, he helped train numerous people who now lead our court system.

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Sturgeon died on Friday; he was 79.

Born in Natchez on Dec. 13, 1931, Sturgeon’s career accomplishments read as if he lived far more than his 79 years.

He was a veteran of the Korean War, serving as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Sturgeon graduated from law school and joined the Mississippi Bar in 1961.

He taught at the University of Southern Mississippi, helping to form the school’s criminal justice department, before becoming dean of admissions there in the mid-1960s.

His political career began in 1963 when he was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives.

In 1967, he was elected Wilkinson County Chancery Court Clerk.

He was elected district attorney in 1979, serving until his retirement from public office in 1995. From 1996 until his death, he practiced law with his son, Holmes Sturgeon.

“The legal profession really suffered a loss with his death,” said Circuit Court Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson Jr., who worked as an assistant district attorney under Sturgeon for six years.

“Out of his employees from his office, we now have a judge, the DA, the circuit clerk,” Johnson said.

Current District Attorney Ronnie Harper said Sturgeon’s mentorship was invaluable.

“There’s a lot of guys out here running around that got their early instruction in knowledge in the courthouse from working with him,” Harper said. “He was a good mentor in that he could teach us stuff without it being in a negative way.”

That legal mentorship was a testament to Sturgeon’s demeanor and willingness to teach others.

“He was an excellent teacher and a kind-hearted DA,” Johnson said. “He understood human nature. He understood the tragedy of criminal cases and the victims.”

That compassion made an impact on others, too, including now Chancery Court Judge Vincent Davis, who Sturgeon appointed assistant DA, just before his retirement.

“He treated everybody equally,” Davis said. “I think, his words were something like, ‘Every old snake has a momma.’ That pointed out that the decisions made in the DA’s office not only affect the person being charged, but also the families, too.”

Johnson said Sturgeon’s diverse career helped him know a little bit about everything — and everybody.

“When he was coming up, I remember he drove a motorcycle a lot, he worked at an auto parts place, he served in the (Korean War),” he said. “His knowledge was very wide and varied. He seemed to know a little bit about everything.

“He seemed like he knew everybody and their family,” Johnson said. “When we were doing jury selection, it was would amaze me, he would know people’s connections, who their family was. He just loved people.

“Sometimes, when you get into office, the politics can be a headache or a chore, but he just loved the politics. I think that’s because he enjoyed people so much.”

Johnson said he remembers Sturgeon’s sense of humor, which was particularly dry sometimes.

“If you ever met him on the street, if you asked him how he was doing, he’d say ‘Worse,” Johnson said. “He’d say, ‘I’m doing worse,” and just kind of laugh and smile.”

For many people who met Sturgeon, they always remembered him by his distinctive features.

“Those eyebrows of his were really his trademark,” Johnson said. “Everybody who met him, remembered him for those.”

However, it was Sturgeon’s great intellect and forthright style that Johnson said he admired most.

“He had a practical aspect about him and he wasn’t afraid to do the right thing, even if it was unpopular sometimes.”

Davis said the respect people had for Sturgeon could be seen at the graveside services on Sunday.

“You only get the respect of the people by treating them right,” he said. “I saw a diverse group of people at his funeral and each one had a story. You had black, white, young, old, well to do and not-so-well to do, all standing there. That spoke volumes to me.”

Adams County Circuit Court Clerk Eddie Walker, who worked with Sturgeon as an investigator during Sturgeon’s 17-year stint as DA, said his former boss was a unique, gifted man.

“He was without question a wonderful boss. I am proud he was my friend and proud and grateful he was my boss,” Walker said. “He is without doubt the only one. There will never be another one like him.”