(Editor’s Note: In 1981 Manchester attorney David Gillis Colson became the state’s oldest prosecutor as Commonwealth’s Attorney by upsetting incumbent Paul Heironymus. No one gave the elderly attorney a chance at winning. The following story is excerpts from The Manchester Enterprise, Lexington Herald-Leader and Louisville Courier-Journal.)
He is too well-liked for anyone to call him a character, but there’s little doubt that David Gillis Colson has been the most unusual lawyer in Manchester for the past half century.
For many of those years, he has practiced law without a secretary, without a telephone and without an office.
A perennial candidate who loses elections more often than not, he was once baited by an opponent for his habit of wearing an overcoat in warm weather and maintaining his office “in the corner of Pat’s Pool Room.”
On January 1, Colson will become the state’s oldest Commonwealth Attorney.
Last month, at the age of 81—an age, says Manchester attorney John Lyttle, “when most people have been dead for 20 years” – Colson unseated incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Heironymous, of McKee, to become one of the oldest men ever elected to a constitutional office in Kentucky, according to the state Department of Personnel.
“And I did it without spending any money,” Colson said. “I didn’t buy any votes. I never had any help from the people who have the big money here or if I did, I didn’t know about it.”
Still, some observers say one of Clay County’s most influential families, The Sizemore’s, may have swung the election to Colson over an upcoming double murder trial of cousin Stevie Sizemore.
The win marked Colson’s second as Commonwealth’s Attorney as he was previously elected in 1951, his only other political victory in 40 years of campaigning.
Colson rode a 2,000-vote margin in Clay County to a landslide victory, while he and Heironymous split the votes in the 41stJudicial District’s other two counties, Leslie and Jackson.
The upset surprised the loser if not the winner.
“I didn’t see it coming,” said Heironymous, who had served two six-year terms, “and none of my friends saw it coming. I’m inclined to believe that in a small area, if you prosecute vigorously for 12 years, you wind up making a bunch of people mad. I’m inclined to believe that the votes weren’t for Mr. Colson; they were against me.”
“The man lost his popularity,” he said.
One case Heironymus has prosecuted vigorously is the double-murder indictment of Stevie Sizemore, 36, a wealthy Clay County Coal operator.
He is charged with the slaying of two coal-truck drivers at a tipple his family owned near Manchester.
A lot of controversy has risen involving the trial including a change of venue request made by Heironymus.
Regardless of how or why Colson was elected, he will be the oldest prosecutor in the state soon.
Colson acknowledges he’s related to the Sizemore’s and would step down and not prosecute the case.
Outwardly, Colson appears to be the same neat, closed button fellow he was before the election, as spry and jaunty as the brim of his straw boater, which dips rakishly above his left eyebrow.
When people asked him how he won, Colson winks and says, “All of the women voted for me and half the men.”
Colson spends most of his days in Pat’s Pool Room and says he had been going there since 1948, shooting pool and drinking Mountain Dew.
Colson carries an Elgin pocket watch on a chain in his left shirt pocket and wears a Timex on his wrist. He checks both as he talks. He likes numbers and his conversations are peppered with dates, ages and costs.
The Elgin new cost $31 he says. He noted he spent $517.89 to get elected and his father paid $2,100 for the house he lives in on Town Branch.
Colson was on his fifth marriage; his wife is now 37 and he married her nine years ago.
“I’ve got a young wife now,” he said with a grin. “I’ve got to stay young.”
He also noted that he carries his last will and testament in the breast pocket of his jacket.
It wouldn’t take long after Colson took office that people started to notice he couldn’t do the job properly.
In 1986, Clay Circuit Judge Clay M. Bishop and the grand jury wrote a letter asking that Colson’s job performance to be reviewed by the states prosecutor’s advisory council.
Varies stories made its way to statewide media about his conduct in the courtroom. They described him as incompetent and a disgrace. Something he took quite personal.
“They’ll play hell putting me out of office,” he said. “I’m honest, I don’t give any cold checks and I don’t drink any whiskey or beer.”
It was a dilemma without a precedent and the state didn’t really know how to handle the situation.
A laundry list of complaints about Colson were submitted including how he could not follow a case due to the loss of his hearing and would sometimes nod off to sleep during jury testimony.
It was said that Colson rarely prosecuted a case himself and most were handled by his assistant Don Fulcher. Colson’s role in a case would be to read the indictment a loud in court, which sometimes he did twice and on occasion did not read the entire thing.
He was accused of wandering in and out of court while in session and could not fully participate in the proceedings.
With all the accusations, the council did not remove Colson from his position and he didn’t seek a second term in office. He was succeeded by Bertram Stivers.
But, Colson wasn’t finished with his political career yet, in 1989 he ran for county attorney and lost two to one to Clay M. Bishop, Jr.
Later that year, Colson was placed into a nursing home in Hyden where he died a few months later at the age of 90.
Legend has it, that Colson had over $80,000 of blank money orders folded up in his wallet upon the time of his death.