Emory Melton leaves legacy
Fitzpatrick: 'He was a walking, talking history book'
The effect former State Senator, lawyer and publisher Emory Melton left on the Cassville, Roaring River and Barry County communities can not be described in few words.
Melton, 92, died on Saturday after spending his life in Barry County. A short list of his accomplishments includes: serving as Republican State Senator in District 29 for six consecutive terms, from 1972 to 1996; serving as the Barry County prosecutor for four years from 1947-1951; owning his own law firm in Barry County since 1947; owning newspapers in Barry and Stone counties; graduating from Monett Junior College, Southwest Missouri State University and the University of Missouri Law School; and serving in the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigations Division during World War II. He was a large supporter of Roaring River State Park, and in recognition of his services, the Emory Melton Inn and Conference Center at the park bears his namesake.
Born in McDowell on June 20, 1923, Melton grew up in Barry County near Flat Creek. His father was 50 at the time he was born and was elected to what is now the presiding commissioner post, and he was the only Republican in the Cassville courthouse during his tenure. Melton said his father only served one term in the position, but the time spent with his father while serving was enough to get him interested in politics.
State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said Melton was always a great source for advice or history.
"He was a walking, talking history book,and that's how I'd describe him," Fitzpatrick said. "He knew so much about Cassville and Barry County, and I think he is a national treasure because people like him are so few and far between. I've never met anyone remotely like Emory Melton."
State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, said he went to Melton's house on Thursday, but did not get to see Melton because he was sleeping.
He said Melton has always been a person all others looked up to.
"Emory had a wealth of knowledge, especially with history, and a lot of us encouraged him to write all of those things down." Sater said. "He could go 50 years back and remember lots of details, and his mind was still accurately working up until the last few months.
"In the senate, he was very good at examining bills and knowing everything in them. There were times people would ask another senator, 'What's in your bill?' And that senator would say, 'Let me have Emory explain it to you.'"
Fitzpatrick said he often sought Melton out for advice.
"Over the last 3-1/2 to 4 years, I spent a lot of time with him," Fitzpatrick said. "When I ran for the House in 2012, I went and sought his advice. I found him very insightful and he continued to be a great source of advice."
Sater said Melton is a person who will never be replaced.
"He's one of a kind and will be greatly missed," he said. "[Emory] had a great sense of humor, and he loved telling old stories and jokes on himself. He sent us a Christmas card last year that said, 'I'm still working at 90, or at least I think I am.'"
Victor Head, a former circuit judge and now senior judge, has known Melton since the late 70s and said no one was more sought after for advice or stories.
"[Emory] was a landmark, what can you say?" Head said. "Everyone consulted with Emory and asked his advice, and he was just a wonderful person who was so highly-regarded and respected.
"My mother always used to tell him she wished they could clone him."
Head said one of his favorite parts about being around Melton was his storytelling.
"He was such a good story teller with a keen wit about him," Head said. "He would tell a story in such detail and such a humorous fashion you could listen to him for hours on end."
Head recalled one story Melton told about an issue in the late 1800s or early 1900s, involving a man, Tom, his wife, Ethel, and the town constable.
"One time he was in the office, and I don't know what brought it up, but he told a story about the constable and Tom and Ethel," he said. "The constable heard this big commotion and all this racket, and Tom came running from his house hollering to the constable saying, 'You've got to save me, you've got to help me. Ethel is trying to kill me.'
"The constable asked what the problem was, and about that time, Ethel came running down the street with a frying pan saying, 'I'm gonna kill him, I'm gonna kill him. He ate all the ham out of the beans.'"
Head said the example of that story was one of too many to recall all of them.
"How he knew all that and how he told it, you'd think he was there," he said. "But, that was way before his time."
Johnnie Cox, former Barry County Prosecutor who now serves as an associate circuit judge, said outside of Melton's family, the law, politics and history was his life.
"He was known as the stalwart Republican and the model of a Republican politician," Cox said. "In the legal profession, he was a legend; in politics, he was a legend; and in recalling history, he was a legend."
Cox said he was always fascinated by Melton's memory.
"He had such an incredible memory of everyone's family history in Barry County: who they were related to, where they worked and where they lived," Cox said. "He had this unbelievable ability to recall any information. I enjoyed listening to him tell stories about lawyers and judges from the past, the local characters.
"In that aspect, he is irreplaceable. There are lots of other things that made him unique and one of a kind, but as my dad said, Barry County has lost a great mind."
Cox also said as an attorney, Melton was always a pleasure to work with.
"Emory was always gracious, patient and responsible," Cox said. "You always knew that when he was involved with a case, he would be a true gentleman to all involved. Once I became prosecutor, I saw how he always represented his clients to the best of his abilities, and he never took advantage of any circumstance. He was always fair to his clients."
Melton was also known for his support of Roaring River State Park, and the lodge at the park bears his namesake. He was honored at the Emory Melton Inn and Conference Center in May 2014, where he was presented with a "State Parks Stories" article featuring Melton. The framed piece is on display at the Inn.
Along with supporting the park, Melton was also a big supporter of the Barry County Museum, which came naturally to him as a historian, according to Kathy White, museum director.
"Emory was very important to this area, and I don't think we've had anyone from here like him in the state legislature that's met our needs since he has gone," she said. "He has donated several thing to the museum that have helped our existence."
One of the most-treasured items, White said, was the chain used to set out the city of Cassville.
"He gave us a lot of things like print materials from many years back, and he gave us a lot of family items in the past year," she said. "He is also included in our Lifetime of Memories series published here at the museum."
White said she only knew Melton as an acquaintance, but his impact in the area was far-reaching.
"Emory was always someone who was very gracious to accept any speaking engagement," she said. "He was a wonderful after-dinner speaker. He had a photographic memory, where he didn't have to check a book or look up a source. He just had it all upstairs.
"Emory is the type of person that if you move here, it's not long before you know him. He was a part of nearly everyone's lives here."
State and national politicians commented on Melton's death over the weekend, including Sen. Billy Long and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
"Senator Melton faithfully served Missouri in the statehouse for over 20 years and he is someone most everyone admired, including me," Long said. "Emory's advice was valued, his friendship could be counted on, and his example was always good."
Nixon said Melton was a profoundly dedicated public servant, accomplished statesman, and an inspiration to all who were fortunate enough to know him.
"As an author, lawyer, publisher and senator, Melton was driven throughout his life by his abiding faith, integrity, and love for this great state," Nixon said. "I was honored to serve alongside Melton in the Missouri Senate and will never forget the lessons I learned from his example -- not the least of which was to read every bill before voting on it. Melton was committed to leaving Missouri better than he found it, and in so many ways that is exactly what he did."
Nixon said some of Melton's proudest achievements included leading the effort to build an inn and conference center at Roaring River State Park.
"Emory and his wife of 61 years, Jean, will always be remembered for exemplifying the very best of Missouri," Nixon said. "The First Lady and I send our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones, and join all Missourians in celebrating his life and accomplishments."
Nixon ordered all flags in Barry County be flown at half-staff on Tuesday in Melton's honor, and the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce requested businesses dim their lights or close from 2-3 p.m., during Melton's funeral services.
Some of Melton's other accomplishments include: being chair of the Missouri Tourism Commission from 1976-1977 and 1981-1982, being a member and past master of the Pythagoras AF and AM Lodge No. 383, being a member of the Cassville Lions Club; being a longtime member of First Baptist Church in Cassville; and receiving the St. Louis Democrat award for public service, being named one of the top ten legislators by the Capitol press corps.