Frank Gramling, 76: Former Cherokee magistrate judge

Frank Gramling's services were usually in big demand on Valentine's Day.

In or out of the office, the former magistrate judge loved to perform weddings.  Once he officiated for a friend in a restaurant. Even in retirement, he was still called on, said Bonnie Sosebee Gramling, his wife of 52 years.

"They would call him on Valentine's Day," she said. "They always wanted him to come in and perform marriages on that day. He has done more than 2,000. He tried to set the brides and grooms at ease with his sense of humor. He enjoyed the people."

Mr. Gramling was a magistrate judge for 30 years.  You might say he started the GOP's dominance of Cherokee elections. In 1970, he was the first Republican elected to any post when he won the position of justice of  the peace.

Mr. Gramling could have made his political life easier with a party switch. The die-hard Republican wouldn't hear of it, though.

"It's just the way I believe," he said in a 1998 interview.

Since 1999, the Cherokee County native had been a cancer patient. Years ago, his left lung was removed, but in recent years doctors were pleased with his condition,  his wife said.

On Friday, William Frank Gramling died in his sleep at his home. He was 76. The funeral will be 2 p.m. Wednesday at Hopewell Baptist Church in Canton. Darby-Huey Funeral Home in Canton is in charge of arrangements.

Mr. Gramling was a Canton native, the second of six brothers born in an area now covered by Lake Allatoona. A Canton High grad, he attended the University of  Georgia and Georgia State. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict.

Before he became a justice of the peace, Mr. Gramling had worked as an assistant manager for a grocery store  in downtown Canton. He held that post nearly 20 years, his wife said, before he moved to the judicial system.

He began his career as an elected official for what was called the Canton militia district. The  justice of  the peace position was abolished in 1983; the state Superior Court appointed him chief magistrate judge. He was re-elected until he decided not to seek office in 2000.

"He won every election that he was ever in," his wife said, "and he won big. The campaigning was hard work, but we liked the people."

Judge Marion T. Pope Jr. of  Canton is retired from the Georgia Supreme Court and the State Court of  Appeals. Mr. Gramling, he said, brought a love of people to the bench.

"The justice of the peace -- now called magistrate judges -- are the first line of defense people have in the system," Mr. Pope said. "Frank wasn't a lawyer, of course, but he had a knowledge of the people, common sense, and he was able to understand their problems. His whole family was a well-known pioneering family in Cherokee County."

In a 1995 interview, Mr. Gramling gave an example of how he tries to lighten the mood at wedding ceremonies.

"I tell them after the ceremony that I give them a 50-year guarantee," he said at the time. Then "I don't allow any disagreements or squabbling. Then I pause for a few seconds and say, ‘for the first 30 days,' and that gets a laugh."

Survivors other than his wife include a daughter, Allison Gramling Bishopof  Cumming; three brothers, Cecil Gramling of  Cumming, Leon Gramling of  Canton and Wilford Gramling of  Holly Springs; and one grandchild.