A towering figure in justice and community has departed, but not before leaving a legacy of respect for the rule of law and the unwritten code of decency.
Charles D (Chuck) Haston, Jr., served as Circuit Court judge in Warren and adjacent counties for 28 years. He died Friday at age 86 after an extended illness.
Endowed with a powerful intellect and strong sense of integrity and duty, he presided over countless trials and hearings, judging causes ranging from the momentous to the trivial, but always with respect and fairness to all who entered his courtrooms.
In accordance with the expressed wishes of this modest and unpretentious man, there are no immediate plans for a traditional funeral or visitation.
“He was an old-fashioned gentleman with old-fashioned values,” Patty Nunley offered. She is the widow of one of Haston’s lifelong and closest friends, Charles (Shot) Nunley.
"Shot" Nunley, along with Haston, Dr Norman Rone and Dr Neil Schultz, formed the core of what became known as the Roundhouse Gang, so called after a house built in an octagonal configuration along what is now West End Avenue.
That house was constructed in the 1830s by a Boston businessman who abandoned McMinnville on the eve of the Civil War.
During one of the several Union occupations of McMinnville, federal troops took up residence in the “round house” but left it in such a ruined condition that its owner razed the structure, Schultz explained.
“We were the closest friends from grammar school,” Schultz, a retired orthodontist, said of his cohort of boyhood pals beginning in 1942.
“I loved him to pieces,” Rone said of the late jurist. “He was dedicated to the law,” following his father, Charles Haston Sr, into legal practice in offices where Cook’s Department Store stood on the south side of Main Street before its destruction in a disastrous fire. That place became a green lawn that is now being prepared as an ice skating rink.
“Throughout our lifetime, he was always there to support me,” Rone, a former McMinnville mayor and retired optometrist, remarked.
In their early high school years, Haston and Rone skated close to the edge of legality as they operated an unlicensed radio transmitter from the latter’s home.
McMinnville residents were excited about the news that the town’s first commercial radio station, WMMT, had been granted government approval to build studios and a transmitting tower here. But before construction began, Rone was on the air with a low-power device and 100-foot antenna built by the late radio engineer ID Byars.
“We were reaching several places in McMinnville as we read the Southern Standard as our news and played records,” Rone recalled. Haston joined him in operating the pirate radio station, which, though illegal in a strict sense, fetched letters and notes of approval and support from listeners to the pioneering wireless service.
Rone later went legitimate as the first announcer on WBMC when it entered service in 1955. As history has come full circle, he was founding president of the non-profit public radio service WCPI 91.3 in the late 1990s.
That station is sketching out plans for an on-air roundtable conversation about Judge Haston and the McMinnville and Warren County that shaped him and that he later influenced in decency, honor and adherence to the laws. Key members of McMinnville's Roundhouse Gang will be gathering to record a personal remembrance of Chuck for broadcast on WCPI. The 55-minute extended FOCUS will be on the air Tuesday at 5 p.m.; Wednesday at 5 a.m.; Thursday at 1 p.m.; and Friday at 2 a.m.
Haston was born December 2 1935, son of Clarence E Haston Sr and Kathleen Donoghy Haston (aka “Dutch”).
In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by a sister, Nancy Haston Keeling, and brother, Clarence E Haston Jr, who died while fighting for his country against Nazi Germany just days before the Allied victory in World War II.
The long-serving judge graduated from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University before entering practice with his father in 1961. Upon the retirement of Judge Pete Brady in 1974 he was appointed to the bench by Governor Winfield Dunn and served through repeated elected terms until his retirement in 2002.
In private life, Judge Haston was a painter of superior skill and imagination. His paint brushes dipped a lot of orange as he celebrated the University of Tennessee football Vols. He was also a longtime member of the Silver & Gold Band where he played trumpet.
Survivors include his son, Charles (Chuck) Haston Jr, director of the Warren County emergency communications agency, and granddaughters Lucy and Emma Haston.