PASS CHRISTIAN — Justice W. Joel Blass, 95, died Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 in Pass Christian.
Funeral services will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012 at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Long Beach.
Burial will follow at St. Paul Cemetery in Pass Christian.
Visitation will be held 5-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26, 2012 at the church.
Riemann Family Funeral Home of Gulfport is in charge of arrangements.
Born in Clinton, he was educated in Mississippi and Louisiana and worked his way through law school where he graduated from Louisiana State University School of Law in 1940. While in Louisiana, he worked as a Special Agent for the Louisiana State police officers assigned to the crime commission.
He received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Infantry through the LSU ROTC program. During World War II, he served with the Third Army in Europe through V-E Day where he received the Bronze Star and attained the rank of Major. He returned to military service during the Korean War.
He moved to Wiggins with his wife and daughters in 1947 to work in an established law practice, but soon started his own law firm. In 1953, he was elected to Stone County’s legislative seat and served two terms during the turbulent years of the racist White Citizen’s Council, which he opposed.
He retired from the state legislature in 1960 and continued with his law practice in Wiggins and Gulfport.
During the 1960s, he served on the faculty at the University of Mississippi School of Law in Oxford for six years. He was a professor who taught the first African American students in the history of the law school, including future Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben V. Anderson and Constance Slaughter Harvey. During that tenure, he was named Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1965 and was awarded the Teacher’s Excellence Award in 1969. After leaving the university, he settled into practice of law on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
In 1989, he was appointed by Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus to fill an unexpired term on the Supreme Court of Mississippi. He returned to the University of Mississippi School of Law in the spring of 1992 to serve one semester in the Whitten Chair of Law and Government as distinguished lecturer on Admiralty law.
In 1995, a Mississippi Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Inns of Court was organized and named for three distinguished jurists, including Judge Blass who ”typify the high ethical, professional, and personal lives that members of the bar would aspire to emulate.” For the years 1999-2000, Justice Blass received the Mississippi State Bar Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
He was a member of the local, Louisiana, Mississippi, and American Bar Associations. He served on the Editorial Board for the Louisiana Law Review. He was a fellow in the Mississippi Bar Foundation and the Young Lawyers Division of the Mississippi Bar Association. After he was appointed by Governor William Winter, he served as a member of the National Conference of Commissions on Uniform State Laws.
He was quoted as saying, "I regarded the law as the highest, loftiest effort of civilized man. Courthouses were temples. The idea of a corrupt judge or a corrupt lawyer deeply offended me.”
While a member of St. Paul Parish, he was the first President of the Diocesan Council of the Natchez-Jackson Diocese. Pope John Paul II bestowed the papal honor of Knight of St. Gregory, Equestrian Order on him in September 1984.
He is survived by his daughters, Pamela Anne Blass Lawhead (William) of Oxford and Alma Marie Blass Faust (James) of Starkville; sons- in- law, Warren Carl Couvillion of Starkville and Michael H. Fries of Winter Park, Fla.; grandchildren, Billy Couvillion (Jill), Courtney Watson (Andy), Joel Lawhead (Julie), Andrew Lawhead (Christin), Beth Harkins (P.L.), Dawn Brinkman (Steve), Joelle Scharlach (Jason), Jim Faust (Sheila) and Merritt Rains (Chris); his special friend, Gwen Gollotte; and his dedicated caregiver, Luba Leonard.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Marion Lucille Merritt Blass; daughters, Marion Lucille Blass Couvillion and Sandra Elizabeth Blass Fries.
Memorial donations may be made to the Marion and Joel Blass Scholarship, University of Mississippi Foundation, PO Box 249, University, Mississippi 38677.
An online obituary may be viewed and memories shared at http://www.riemannfamily.com .