Throughout a viewing and visitation at Cypress Baptist Church, a Home Going Celebration at Lebanon Baptist Church and in countless gatherings and groupings throughout the area this week the words “legend” and “advocate for change” and especially phrases containing the word, “first” were often heard as Gerald Poindexter was laid to rest. “First interracial law practice in Richmond, VA,” “first black County Attorney in the country,” “first with daring and fresh approaches to long-standing issues,” and “First local ordinance of its kind passed in the South – Surry County Human Rights Ordinance enacted in 1973” were only a few examples of his great contributions to the world.
Ask anyone who knew Gerald Poindexter and you quickly learn that he was all these things and more. Whether he was finishing high school at only 16 years of age, graduating from Virginia Union University at the age of 20, or working for the US Department of Commerce in Washington while attending Howard University, he always was advancing toward his goal of making a difference. And finally, inspired as he was learning from the likes of Oliver Hill, Thurgood Marshall, and Howard University Law School Dean Charles Hamilton Houston, he abandoned his planned career in science to pursue a law degree, which he achieved upon graduating from the University of Michigan in 1970.
The profession of law enabled him to advocate for the people and effect change, to become County Attorney for Surry County in 1972 for 32 years while maintaining his private law practice, and finally to be elected Commonwealth’s Attorney for the County in 1995.
He was a complex man with widely diverse interests – a voracious reader, a lover of music, and devoted to his home and his community in Surry County. And although he was known as “a very smart advocate” and “a legal power to be reckoned with” in court, Gerald Poindexter was man of great humility and warmth, with compassion and empathy that aided in his ability to identify with the struggles of others.
Married for more than 50 years to Judge Gammiel Gray Poindexter, Gerald Poindexter was a father figure and role model to many young boys and girls in the Surry County community where he was affectionately known as “Grandpa.” He was quick to show his pride in his three sons, six grandchildren, and two young boys whom he loved and raised like his very own sons.
After his service, one of those young boys, Dante Wright, who attributes his current position as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney of Sussex County to Poindexter’s influence, described him this way.
“It’s difficult placing into words what Gerald Poindexter meant to me, because truthfully, he and his wife, Gammiel Poindexter, have meant everything to me,” said Wright. “I was four years of age when I met Gerald Poindexter, and although I didn’t know it at the time, meeting him and his family would alter the course of my life. I was my mother’s seventh child by the time she was 29 years of age, and neither my mother nor father finished high school. In many cases, you could say that my story was well-written before I ever decided what I’d become.”
“However,” he continued, “somewhere along the way, God decided that there was a different plan for me by placing Gammiel and Gerald Poindexter into my life. Not only was Gerald Poindexter a father to me, but he was also, in my opinion, the greatest man I’d ever met. Much of our time spent together involved him educating me on music, American and African American history and culture, and most importantly, convincing me that I possessed the intangibles to achieve feats that in my mind seemed insurmountable.”
“Quite often,” he added, “I felt that he thought more of me than I did of myself, but his persistence never wavered. I felt that based upon my background, simply making it to college was a considerable achievement, but he insisted that there was more to be done. I love him, and I’ll miss him as a son misses his father.”
Sussex County Commonwealth’s Attorney Vincent Robertson also paused to speak of Gerald Poindexter following the services, saying, “I have known Gerald for nearly twenty years. He was a good friend and a legal giant. I am blessed to have stood on his broad shoulders as I pursued my legal career. He was also a bridge builder. I am equally blessed to have crossed the many bridges that he built along his journey. My road to becoming a Commonwealth’s Attorney was made far less difficult because of trails that he blazed. I was proud to be among the judges, lawyers, and many other dignitaries that attended his memorial service. I pray that his legacy lives on in the lives of all that he touched. He will be sorely missed.”