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Longtime York Co. chief bailiff Ned Wisher, "a gentleman's gentleman" dies

Monday was the first day of term of civil court at the historic York County Courthouse.

Dozens of jurors arrived to see if they might hear the cases, lawyers talked so long it seemed the seasons would change before they shut up, the judge and clerks sat up front.

Justice rolled on like it always does, but the judges, lawyers, clerks and bailiffs were carrying a heavier load on Monday - grief over the loss of the chief bailiff who ran the place for so long, the one and only Ned Wisher.

Wisher died Saturday at 89, but his legacy will live on.

Wisher retired a couple of years ago after almost two decades as the chief civil bailiff.

Bailiffs are the older guys - all retired from first careers - who wear the suits and guard the doors and make sure hundreds of people know where to go and when to go. They make sure the courts run as courts are supposed to - with dignity.

Wisher survived the D-Day invasion in 1944 aboard a Navy ship that was hit by a suicide plane while pounding the Normandy coast. He helped pull sailors from the sea that day and fought on.

He sure knew more than a little about keeping a dignified and cool head.

You couldn't miss Wisher at that historic courtroom at that historic building. He seemed 9 feet tall. Really, he was about 6-foot-3 or so, but he seemed huge. Gigantic. All legs and elbows - and smile. Wisher had a smile for everybody.

"A great man," is how Clyde Gibson, the current chief bailiff for civil court, described Wisher. "He was here when I got here, I took his place as chief bailiff when he retired.

"But there was only one Ned."

Wisher was as dependable as the sunrise, said David Hamilton, York County Clerk of Court - the man who technically was Wisher's boss.

Wisher was the first person at the courthouse on thousands of mornings to unlock everything, the man who tended to jurors and judges and staff and anybody else, because Wisher believed that the court had to run perfectly.

"Ned Wisher was a great man," said Hamilton.

"Not just a great bailiff. A great and generous person."

The circuit judge who probably saw more of Wisher than any jurist the last two decades, York County's John C. Hayes III, described Wisher as "a gentleman's gentleman."

Wisher treated all who entered the courthouse - the jurors and lawyers, the litigants and courthouse workers - with utmost respect, grace and kindness, said Hayes.

Wisher did not allow anyone, ever, to sully his courtroom. He demanded that everyone in his courtroom respect the court. He took a juror to jail one time when the guy showed up drunk after the lunch break.

One time, an argument ensued in the hallway outside the big courtroom. A bald guy, big as truck, yelled loudly at another guy. That other guy was the size of a garage.

Wisher came outside the courtroom and told the two guys in a voice that was no scream but was sure heard: "In this courthouse, we do not yell. Ever. Stop that right now. If not, I will stop it for you."

The argument between behemoths ended, immediately.

Some bailiffs are retired cops, but Wisher was retired from a textile mill. He spent more than 35 years at the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Company, the Bleachery, after his long stretch in the Navy.

His broad hands and body showed years in the packing department, then in the business office and other departments. He only became a bailiff in his late 60s.

"Somebody said all those years ago they needed a bailiff, so he went and tried it and by the third day, he loved it and always loved going to work at the courthouse," said Wisher's wife, Betty. "People were always coming up to Ned and saying that they remembered him from when they were on jury duty.

"He took pride in being nice and generous with his time for all those people who had to go to court."

Wisher started at the long-gone Arcade Mill, bringing home $6 a week as a teenager who didn't have the chance to go to high school much because he had to work.

Young Ned gave his father $5 of that $6 paycheck, Betty Wisher recalled. Wisher worked so hard all his life so his sons could go to college and succeed, which they sure did and still do.

Today would have been Ned and Betty's 65th wedding anniversary. There will be civil court in York the next day, Wednesday, when Ned Wisher is buried.

Court goes on without him, but that courtroom doesn't seem quite the same.

I asked Wisher once when I was trying to explain the generation of men who volunteered for World War II and left for years - if they survived - why those thousands of brave men did it.

He said, simply, the same thing he said about why he wanted his civil courtroom to run perfectly.

"It was my duty."