BARKER -- Pistol-packing Somerset Town Justice Beryl T. Coleman Sr. -- known as the longest-serving judge in New York State when he retired in 2005 -- died Saturday in his Barker home. He was 81.
Born in Medina, he was a lifelong resident of Barker, and became a local legend for his feisty ways and carving a reputation for strictness on the bench.
Judge Coleman enjoyed a long career in local government -- spanning 52 years -- as the Somerset town justice and Barker village justice. He had also worked as a construction supervisor for the New York Telephone Co. in Lockport until he retired in 1983.
At the time of his retirement at age 78, Judge Coleman was known for many controversial cases -- some resulting in unpopular decisions. As a result, he was known for coming to court with a .38-caliber pistol holstered under his robes, though he never used it.
Judge Coleman served as judge for Barker and Somerset in northeastern Niagara County until he was defeated by Jeffrey P. Wick, 31.
When he retired from the bench, he remarked that he had "some good times as judge, but some were bad." He was known for refusing to plea-bargain speeding tickets and treated what others considered a part-time post as full-time job.
Early in his judicial career, court was held in the living room of his house. Court was held there and in Village Hall, until the courthouse was built in 1978.
A 1945 graduate of Barker High School, he was active in athletics and played on several championship teams.
He was a veteran of the Army Signal Corps Division and served as commander of Barker Post 425, American Legion.
His roots in Barker date to his great-great-grandfather, who settled the area with another pioneer, David Barker, for whom the village was named.
Judge Coleman was active in many organizations and served as president of the Lions Club and was a longtime Mason. He also coached Little League baseball, was an exempt member of the Barker Fire Department and was a member of New York Telephone Pioneers.
He also served as president of the Niagara County Magistrates Association and was a longtime member of Faith United Methodist Church.
Survivors include his wife of 58 years, the former Carol McClay; a daughter, Judith Otto; and two sons, Beryl Jr. and Scott.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Faith United Methodist Church, 1449 Quaker Road.
-- Karen Robinson