Knights of Pythias

Former Gregg County Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Arthur Fort speaks in August at the Knights of Pythias, Pythian Lodge No. 26 about a sign campaign to support police and firefighters. Fort, 84, died Friday at home.

Gregg County officials who worked with former Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Arthur Fort described him Friday as a man who was dedicated to public service.

Fort, 84, died Friday at home. He served 18 years as JP until he left office in 2014. He also had worked in law enforcement for about 20 years combined with the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office and Longview Police Department, said Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano.

“He worked all the time. That’s one of the things about being a public servant,” said Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt. “He epitomized that.”

“He was always on call, always ready to help. He was a real go-to person if you needed advice on certain issues,” the judge said, adding that Fort had mentored other justices of the peace and elected officials.

Justices of the peace in Texas preside over certain misdemeanor court classes, small civil cases and disputes between tenants and landlords. They conduct inquests, hear truancy cases and conduct wedding ceremonies, among other duties. During his time in office, Fort initiated conferences with local schools to address truancy. He also pronounced 24-year-old Richard Vega dead in September 2015 after he walked off from the Hands on a Hardbody contest and committed suicide inside what was a Kmart across the street on McCann Road. (Hands on a Hardbody was an annual contest a local dealership conducted to award a new truck to a contestant who kept a hand on the truck the longest.)

Fort was a lifelong member of First Baptist Church of Longview and a member of the Knights of Pythias, Pythian Lodge No. 26 in Longview. This past summer, he spearheaded a campaign with the lodge to distribute yard signs that say, “We back the blue and firefighters too.” One of Fort’s brothers, Walter Lee Fort, also deceased, was a former fire chief in Longview.

In court, Fort was “all business” and about following the law, Stoudt said.

“He just knew this community and loved it and worked hard for it,” he said.

Cerliano, the Gregg County sheriff, said Fort was good at listening to people’s problems and trying to help solve them, in and out of the courtroom.

“He was a good man and a good friend,” he said.

Cerliano said Fort had cancer, and the sheriff had visited him several times in recent weeks. He said Fort’s law enforcement background was helpful in his work as justice of the peace.

“He had that knowledge to assist him in making decisions because there would be issues we would have to work through,” Cerliano said. “He was always willing to respond and help, even if it was after hours or on the weekend. He also used his knowledge in law enforcement to take those circumstances into consideration and view the totality of the circumstances. He always seemed to make the right decision, and we appreciated that....

“I think he served his community well,” Cerliano said.

Fort’s wife, Sue, preceded him in death. They had two sons, Lyle and Billy Fort of Longview. Billy Fort is constable for Gregg County Pct. 2.

Visitation will be 5-7 p.m. Feb. 28 at Welch Funeral Home. Services will be at 1 p.m. March 1 at First Baptist Church.

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