POINT PLEASANT — The time has to be right and there’s a time for everything.
For Gail Roush, her time as Mason County Magistrate ended on July 1 after 37 years in state government.
“I was struggling with wanting to retire but not wanting to leave here,” she said, explaining creating a smooth transition for the who and how of her exit was on her mind for many months.
“I had told Lisa (Foley…her assistant), it was something I wanted to do but for some reason I was hesitant about it, I had prayed about it and I said (in prayer), when it’s right, You give me that peace,” Roush said, explaining that peace came this past June and there was no doubt about that path and in her mind, the person who was eventually appointed to take her place.
“I wanted someone that I knew would be dedicated and would fulfill these duties,” she said.
Roush believes that someone was found in Melanie Sang, the former victim’s advocate who had, up until last month, worked in the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office. Sang met with Circuit Court Judge Anita Ashley about the position as part of the interview process and was appointed to serve out Roush’s term which ends on Dec. 31, 2020. She was sworn in on July 22 by Circuit Court Judge R. Judge Craig Tatterson.
“I believe in Melanie, I’ve worked with her several years, she’s got magistrate and circuit court experience…she was a perfect replacement for me,” Roush said about the judicial decision to appoint Sang.
Roush’s path to the court house began after graduating with the Point Pleasant High School Class of 1979, as well as after attending Fairmont State College, then finishing with a a Business Associate’s Degree from Gallipolis Business College as well as an Executive Secretary’s Degree. In 1982, she was approached by former Magistrate Andy Wilson to work in his office.
“I just kind of fell into it when Andy Wilson called me…I knew nothing about the court system…I learned it from everyday work,” Roush said of her early days in the court house and the experience she gained.
She then worked for former magistrate Johnny Reynolds who later retired, and she was appointed to fulfill that unexpired term and then ran on her own record for several terms after. In all, she served 14 years as magistrate. As for Sang, she’s a 1991 graduate of Point Pleasant High School, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Marshall University, has worked for Prestera, as well as in a job counseling position and for several years as a substitute teacher. She was also busy raising her three children with husband Brad. Twenty-two years ago, she was the county’s first victim’s advocate and in 2016 returned to that position.
“I knew my job (in the prosecutor’s office), I had no intentions of leaving it,” Sang said about the opportunity to possibly fill Roush’s shoes being something totally unexpected.
Of course, rolling with the unexpected requires a little faith in what will be.
“I feel like it all fell into place,” Sang said of the path to her latest position. “I had a job and I liked my job but if it worked out it was meant to be.”
Roush feels strongly Sang was “meant to be” where she sat in the courtroom for many years.
“She’s a good listener because she’s had to be in her previous job and she cares about people because as victim’s advocate that comes along with it,” Roush said of Sang. “She’s always been dedicated to her job regardless of where she worked, she’s a dedicated worker, she shows up everyday, she goes above and beyond.”
Sang said Roush has passed along not only lessons on the procedures of magistrate court but the personal lessons of dealing with life in the courtroom.
“You have to treat everyone with respect,” Roush said about those lessons.
“If you just treat people like you’d want to be treated…just hear them out,” Roush continued. “Everyone is not going to agree with you (when it comes to rulings).”
Roush said this was just part of the job but the key was to remain fair and impartial when listening and deciding an issue before the court. After all, a goal is to get home every night and be able to look yourself in the mirror.
“I’ve been able to do that ever since I took this job,” Roush firmly stated.
There are aspects of the job she didn’t like but it was her job. Did she like putting people in jail, of course not, Roush said. She explained it was important to give people every opportunity to change their lives and what they did with those opportunities was up to them. If that didn’t happen, the law provides a guideline that is meant to be fair and impartial – two words that Roush advised Sang to rely upon.
In addition to telling her these words of wisdom, Sang said she has also witnessed Roush’s words in action.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with her in court (working in the prosecutor’s office), I have followed her, I have watched her (work),” Sang said. “I want to be able to do the job as well as she has done it over the years…it’s a very humbling experience to know I’ve got to follow the best.”
Roush was recently selected to be a Senior Status Magistrate by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. This doesn’t require she run for re-election and she can work around the entire state when and where needed. It allows her the freedom to still do what she’s known for the last 37 years on her terms which includes spending much more time with family.
“I’m going to travel (with husband Walt), it’s time for me, I’ve raised my kids…it’s time for me,” Roush said with a hint of some of that peace that revealed itself to her back in June.
During Sang’s oath of office ceremony, Roush held the Bible.
“I cried, it was bittersweet,” Roush said of that particular mix of endings and beginnings. “It’s bittersweet because I had taken that oath many times, as an assistant and as a magistrate…it was just a moment that hit me. It (the tears) were in happiness for her (Sang) and bittersweet for me.”
Sang recalled that moment where she took the oath in front of her family who has been supportive of this new change to their lives, “I was excited but nervous and hoping and praying that I can serve this job as well as Gail. I mean, she was amazing and that’s what I want to be like.”
Looking back over the years, Roush supposed most people didn’t know just how many hours the magistrate’s job required, and sometimes those hours were coming in at two or three in the morning for a “call out.”
“It’s 24 hours a day,” Roush said, looking back. “Nobody can fathom how many hours we put in at this job, only your spouse or our children would know because of the time they miss from you.”
When asked, Roush said she didn’t remember her first official day as magistrate many years ago, she just knows she knew how to continue doing the work, being a part in the transition from one magistrate to the other without missing a beat on the docket – a tradition she continued this summer.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.