Legendary retired York County Judge John Buford Grier dies at 78

Buford Grier
Buford Grier Herald file

Longtime York County Master-in-Equity Judge Jack Kimball tells people that above all else, a judge must have one trait: integrity.

Kimball’s predecessor on the master-in-equity civil court bench, John “Buford” Grier, who died Monday at age 78, defined integrity.

“Buford Grier was a man, a judge, who believed in fairness for all,” Kimball said. “A judge, a good judge anyway, must have integrity, that ability to be fair and impartial in all cases and to all people. Judge Grier had great integrity.”

Circuit Court Judge John. C. Hayes III, a peer of Grier’s on the York County bench for more than a decade and a friend for decades, described Grier as “The consummate judge.”

“He had a keen legal mind, a wonderful wit, a compassionate soul and great people skills,” Hayes said.

The loss of Grier, whom both Hayes and Kimball said was “a good friend,” hurts deeply.

Grier retired from the bench in 2003. He was appointed York County’s first-ever master-in-equity judge in 1991, when the county’s population rose to a level that the state required a judge to handle property matters and many other civil cases. Grier had practiced law in Rock Hill since leaving the Army judicial advocate corps in 1967. The choice of Grier to take care of the new judicial office was made, but Grier had to start and run an office created in an old store in downtown York with only his wits.

“He started this office without any blueprint, from whole cloth,” Kimball said.

And from that, Grier built an office that served thousands of people, many of whom were going through foreclosures or other financial problems that end up in civil courts. People would walk into the office and hear bluegrass music and know that this judge was a throwback to another, slower time. Grier also served on fee dispute resolution boards that helped chart a course for resolving the financial problems people had.

Grier never lost the compassion for people that he always had as a lawyer when serving as a judge, said his wife of 53 years, Kay. Judge Grier was known for telling people in his courtroom that family is more important than money.

Grier foresaw the looming financial recession of 2008 long before it happened, when as master-in-equity judge he handled hundreds of foreclosures and other cases where people had borrowed money they had no chance to repay. Grier knew those loans would lead to calamity and it saddened him greatly that the courts would then be powerless to help. In a 2003 interview with The Herald, the week he retired from the bench, Grier said: “It appears some people will loan money to anybody who is breathing.”

He even had to handle the foreclosure of the old Rock Hill Printing & Finishing property known as the “Bleachery,” that is now being turned into Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park for future high-tech jobs, housing, and more. Grier’s late father, ran that huge American textile mill for decades and Buford Grier never forgot those jobs transformed lives of poor rural southerners who before that had little hope.

“The Bleachery came out of the depression and helped save Rock Hill and York County,” Grier said in 2003.

Judge Grier battled health problems the last couple of years - and one stint in the hospital led to a news story in The Herald he didn’t know about until much later - because his wife kept it a secret because of his health. A couple days before New Year’s Day of 2015, Grier was going into the hospital and took off his wedding band that wife Kay had given him in 1962. But in a stop at the Food Lion on Ebenezer Avenue in Rock Hill, somehow the ring fell out of the car to the parking lot. A lady found it and called The Herald and a story ran.

Buford Grier got the ring back, thanks to that nice lady.

Grier’s funeral with military honors is set for Thursday at 2 p.m. at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church, Rock Hill.