The Honorable Henry R. Wilhoit, Jr. of Grayson, Ky. passed on September 12, 2022 from this life surrounded by his beloved family from the Ashland Community Hospice Care Center and into the presence of his Savior in Paradise. He was born February 11, 1935 to H. Rupert and Kathryn Wilhoit of Grayson, Ky. He was a member of the Grayson First Church of Christ and Fairway Christian Church in The Villages, Fla. He is survived by his childhood sweetheart, Jane Horton (Huff) Wilhoit, whom he eloped with over 66 years ago. He is also survived by his brother Michael (Trish) Wilhoit of Tallahassee, Fla.; his children Mary Jane (Wes) Phelps of Versailles, Ky., H. Rupert (Missy) Wilhoit, III, and William (Michelle) Wilhoit of Grayson, Ky.; five grandchildren, Andrew Wilhoit of Cincinnati, OH., Kathryn (Scott) Wilhoit-Manquist of Chicago, IL., Laura Jane Phelps of Grayson, KY., Christopher Phelps of Versailles, Ky., MacKenzie (Dustin) Scott, and Henry R. Wilhoit, IV, and three great grandchildren, Sebastian Manquist, Hayden Scott, and Harrison Scott. Also surviving are his sui generis daughters, Benu Rellan and Tiffany Malloy.
Judge Wilhoit was a renowned storyteller and had a knack for dramatic speeches that captivated his audiences. He was a treasure trove of witty sayings and sage advice. He was a natural public speaker and his rapport with people helped establish himself as an excellent trial lawyer. His peers recognized him in Martindale Hubbell Directory as a preeminent attorney with its highest ethical rating.
He was a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Indeed, just a few months after being sworn in as President of the Kentucky Bar Association in June of 1981, then President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, appointed him to serve as a trial judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky. For over 40 years, he held the position of United States District Judge in Ashland and Lexington and presided over some of the most complex federal cases in our legal system. In 1998 he became Chief Judge of the Eastern District before taking senior status on December 31, 2000. He famously proclaimed that “Jane Horton married me for better or worse, but not for lunch, so I had to keep working.” He continued to administer a docket until he went inactive shortly before his death. His reported cases have been used in law school textbooks and his high profile cases have been the subject of books, a Sports Illustrated article, and a TV series.
Judge Wilhoit began practicing law in 1960 with his father and was the family’s fourth generation of trial lawyers dating back to 1867. He began hanging around courthouses at an early age watching his father try a murder case in Elliott County when he was only 11 years old. During his practice, he served as Grayson City Attorney and Carter County Attorney. He firmly believed in the dignity of his profession and the importance of our jury system, and he led by example. Indeed, all three of his children went into law (with two judges), and three of his grandchildren extended the family legacy to six (6) generations of attorneys.
Judge had a booming operatic voice performing “Thus Sayeth the Lord” in Handel’s Messiah on numerous occasions. He proudly professed that he never needed a microphone. Singing Irish tenor to My Old Kentucky Home at UK football games was one of his favorite past-times. Oh, and he did bleed Blue. He was a proud member of the UK Marching 100 Band in college, and graduated from the UK College of Law in 1960. Judge was a former President of the UK National Alumni Association and served on the UK Board of Trustees. He rarely missed a game and often traveled to away games and tournaments, and it was widely known that his Lexington docket was typically scheduled around UK home games.
Funeral services will be Saturday, 1:00 p.m. at First Church of Christ in Grayson, with Tom Lawson and Ben James, ministers. Private burial will be in the Grayson Memorial Burial Park. Friends may call Friday, 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m., also Saturday after 12 noon until service at First Church of Christ. One of Judge’s favorite sayings was “Cast your bread upon the water…” (Ecc 11:1) He explained that blessings given away, always return back to you. So, in lieu of flowers, the family requests that blessings be cast to the Grayson First Church of Christ, 287 Pomeroy Street, Grayson KY, 41143 or Ashland Community Hospice, 1480 Carter Ave., Ashland, KY 41101. Serving as pallbearers are, Rupert Wilhoit, William Wilhoit, Andrew Wilhoit, Christopher Phelps, Wes Phelps, Scott Manquist and Henry Rupert Wilhoit, IV. To leave a condolence, or your favorite memory, please visit www.malonefuneralhome.com.