MONROE, Ga. — Even before graduating law school, he was appointed sheriff of Walton County after his father was shot down in the line of duty.
As a lawmaker, he wrote the bill that created the judicial circuit still in force today.
And as a judge, he made decisions that shaped lives.
Marvin Williams Sorrells, retired chief judge of the Alcovy Circuit, died Saturday. He was 82.
He was a native of Monroe and loved Walton County, his children said.
“He wanted to get to know everybody,” his daughter, Laura Sorrells, said in an interview Monday.
“When he was in the hospital, each new nurse, he wanted to know their name. He wanted to express his gratitude to them. He cared about people very deeply.
“He really cared about people, their stories, their lives — great compassion. He was also a great storyteller.”
His son, Brian Sorrells, agreed.
“He was an amazing storyteller, and the stories often revolved around his love for people and amusing happenings. He loved funny happenings involving his friends and family.”
Both of his children said that despite their father’s busy career, he always made time for his family.
“He was with me often all weekend long, or on Saturdays working in the woodshop we had, building small pieces of furniture,” Brian Sorrells said. “We did that a lot. Summers included going to Lake Sinclair, going to the north Georgia mountains for camping, hunting, going to other campgrounds — the weekends were filled with time at home, building go-kart trails.”
Laura Sorrells said she and her father “always had a very close relationship.”
“That was just really the hallmark of who he was, was this deep committed love for us, for people,” she said. “He had a very tender heart. He always made holidays special as a kid. He loved tradition.”
That love of history allowed him to give back to the community during his time as chief judge of the Alcovy Circuit, as Walton County renovated the courthouse in downtown Monroe. Sorrells guided the project in the mid-1990s as the building was restored to its 19th century grandeur.
“As I understand it, he was a central, instrumental force in getting the architecture plan and making sure that happened,” Brian Sorrells said. “He grew up around the courthouse because his father was the sheriff for many years, alternating with Lewis Howard. Because of term limits, they would alternate.
“He grew up around it and it was the local landscape of his life. Law enforcement, the legal system – I think it was really special, deeply special to him that he could catalyze the process of renovating the courthouse.”
Charles J. “Dock” Sorrells was sheriff from 1953-56 and after the 1960 election began a new term on New Year’s Day 1961. But he was shot on Sunday night, May 27, 1962, while trying to serve a warrant on 34-year-old Malcom Conner in the Pleasant Valley community.
Sorrells and Deputy James D. “Jim” Haralson reached the Conner home just before midnight. Conner refused to come out. Sorrells opened the screen door to allow Haralson to kick open the door when a blast from a shotgun struck Sorrells in the chest.
Dock Sorrells died hours later in an Athens hospital and Ordinary J.B. Blasingame appointed Marvin Sorrells as interim sheriff until a special election could be held. Haralson won the election in a landslide and appointed Sorrells as his deputy.
Marvin Sorrells’ children didn’t know their grandfather, but he made sure they knew of him.
“When my grandfather was killed, I didn’t grow up with that as a story of bitterness, I grew up with that as a story of forgiveness and a story of moving on,” Laura Sorrells said. “He was a titanic story, but it was never about hate or bitterness. This is what happen, and we learned how to forgive and move beyond it.”
After serving in law enforcement, Sorrells practiced law for many years and was in the General Assembly from 1969-73. During that time, he wrote the bill that created the Alcovy Judicial Circuit of Newton and Walton counties.
Then-Gov. Jimmy Carter signed the act in 1972. It moved Walton out of the Western Circuit with Clarke and Oconee counties and Newton out of the Stone Mountain Circuit, which now just has DeKalb County.
After leaving the legislature, Sorrells served as a Juvenile Court judge in Walton County. He was elected to the Superior Court in 1988, succeeding Judge Tom Ridgeway.
At the time, he joined Greeley Ellis with just two judges on the Alcovy Superior Court bench.
Ellis resigned to run for governor in 1990, and then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris appointed the district attorney, John Ott.
Ott remains on the bench and now is the chief judge of five on the circuit.
“Marvin’s strengths that made him so good were his common-sense approach to every problem,” Ott said Monday.
“He didn’t worry about the exact letter of the law. He worried about justice. In a small town and a small community, that’s what people admired so much about Marvin, was doing the right thing.
“He was a problem-solver, which is what a lot of judges do.”
Sorrells and Ott were the only two Superior Court judges for the Alcovy Circuit until the creation of a third judgeship, filled by Judge Samuel D. Ozburn in 1996.
“Marvin was the perfect chief judge to oversee the rest of us,” Ott said. “He’d be so wise about everything. He’d never try to tell the other judges what to do, but he was there to talk to.
“We created quite a collegial unit. To this day we still get along and eat lunch together and talk all the time. Marvin was the perfect one and that’s why our system always worked well.”
Sorrells retired in 2004 but assumed senior judge status and continued to hear cases as needed. But his life was about more than work, his children said.
He often took his grandchildren to Barnes & Noble in Athens “and often time he would end up treating people to books,” Laura Sorrells recalled.
“One of the last times he went, he came home with a big apologetics Bible. He was very excited about it. He was very much about information, but he was also very prayerful.”
In addition to his Bible study and service as an elder, deacon and Sunday school teacher at First Christian Church of Monroe, Sorrells enjoyed gardening and antiquing with his wife, Joan Davis Sorrells.
Funeral services will begin at 2 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church of Monroe. Burial will follow at the Sorrells Springs Primitive Baptist Church cemetery.
Visitation will be from 5 until 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Tim Stewart Funeral Home in Monroe.