At our commencement, we were amused by the local custom of following the High Sheriff of Berkshire County in the procession. He was none other than John Courtney, Jr. (1922-2001), Class of 1970, who served in the position from 1963 to 1978. He wore the traditional attire: top hat, cutaway coat, vest and bow tie. As High Sheriff, Mr. Courtney marched in our ceremony and carried a staff. At the conclusion, he pounded the staff on the ground and declared: “God Save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts!”
Elijah Williams, brother of Colonel Ephraim Williams, was the County’s first high sheriff, serving from 1761 to 1776. John Courtney was the 18th person appointed to that office.
Born in Holyoke, MA, Mr. Courtney had seen action as a marine at Guadalcanal and elsewhere during World War II, and then served on the state police force and later as police chief of Williamstown until 1962. As sheriff of Berkshire County in the mid-sixties he became widely known as an innovator in the field of corrections. Mr. Courtney earned his bachelor’s degree from Williams after taking classes there a few times a week for eight years, and he was awarded a master’s degree from the State University of New York at Albany in 1972. Later he served on the faculty of St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, and then pursued additional law enforcement work until 1989.
Little did we know that a fellow Eph ably performed this important, traditional role in our graduation exercises for us.