Retired Chancellor Norman L. Gillespie died August 29

September 1, 2021

Retired Chancellor Norman L. Gillespie died peacefully at his home in Oxford on Aug. 29. He was 87.

Mississippi makes improvements in access to justice

A funeral service will be held on Saturday, Sept. 4, at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Oxford. Visitation will be held the day of service at the church beginning at 10 a.m. Waller Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.

Judge Gillespie held numerous positions in the state and federal justice system during more than 40 years of public service. He served as County Prosecuting Attorney of Union County from 1964 until 1968. He was appointed as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi in November 1968. He was U.S. District Court Clerk for the Northern District of Mississippi for 24 years, serving 1974-1998. He also served as part-time U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of Mississippi from 1980 to 1996.

After he retired from the federal court, he was elected Chancellor of the state's 18th Chancery District, which includes Benton, Calhoun, Lafayette, Marshall and Tippah counties. He served January 1999 - December 2002. After his retirement, he continued to serve as a senior status judge, hearing cases by appointment of the Mississippi Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Michael P. Mills said, “He was a most delightful person to have dealings with, either as Clerk of the Court or Magistrate Judge. He was very patient. Particularly as a young lawyer, which I was, it meant a lot to me to have somebody who didn’t scare me to death when I walked into the courthouse.”

“I have a couple of books in my office that he brought by for me to read” in later years. “He was always interested in politics, law and government,” Judge Mills said.

“He was a bright light. He had an abiding curiosity and enthusiasm for life. His training was in the law. He was very enthusiastic about making the law better,” Judge Mills said.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin Lloyd Pittman appointed Judge Gillespie to the Judicial Advisory Study Committee in July 2002. Judge Gillespie continued to serve on the Study Committee until June 2014, reappointed by Chief Justice Jim Smith and Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. Judge Gillespie served a term as chair of the Study Committee, which made policy recommendations to the Supreme Court and the Legislature for improvements affecting the administration of justice.

Supreme Court Justice James D. Maxwell II of Oxford remembered Judge Gillespie as a people person and a gifted storyteller. Justice Maxwell said, “Judge Gillespie was a fine Christian man, judge, and lawyer. He was a particularly gifted storyteller and a real people person too. He never met a stranger and was always friendly and encouraging. If you met Norman, you immediately liked him. He loved his family and all things lawyerly.”

“And he always had a finger on the pulse of local and regional politics. Always. Judge Gillespie loved everything about the more rural areas up here and never missed or forgot a single detail about their goings-on,” Justice Maxwell said.

Court of Appeals Judge Jim M. Greenlee of Oxford said, “Whether from swearing me in to practice in the Federal Courts, shepherding my filings as Clerk of the District Court, experiencing his wisdom as Magistrate Judge, knowing his impartiality as Chancellor, or his just being a wonderful neighbor, Norman Gillespie was all times hospitable, gracious and yet demanding of the best. A gentleman in our profession, Norman's service to our system of justice was impeccable, but he was an even better person.”

Attorney Grady Tollison Jr. of Oxford described Judge Gillespie as always congenial. “I cannot remember Norman without a smile on his face. I knew him for 50 years.”

Norman L. Gillespie was born in Bruce, Mississippi, on Aug. 10, 1934, the youngest child of A.L. Gillespie and Lora Overby Gillespie. He graduated from New Albany High School in 1952, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Mississippi in May 1956. He received a commission to the Military Intelligence Corps as a U.S. Army Second Lieutenant a few days later. He served in the Counter Intelligence Corps in Europe from April 1957 until September 1958. He earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Mississippi School of Law in May 1961, and served as president of the law school student body. He practiced law in New Albany from June 1961 until November 1968.

He was a faithful member of the First Baptist Church of Oxford for decades, and he served for many years as a deacon.

He is survived by his wife of more than 56 years, Johnnie Vance Gillespie of Oxford; their sons, Van Gillespie of Brandon and John Gillespie of Oxford; sister Edna Wayne Daniel of New Albany; grandchildren Mary Beth, Emma Cate, Dylan, Madison and Trae; nephews and a niece.