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Tommy Druen: Judge Emberton was a great mentor

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By Tommy Druen

The 1990s were an age of advice and self-help. Multiple shelves of such stores as B. Dalton and Waldenbooks (remember those places?) were dedicated to books on the topic. It was an era when people like Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins and Susan Powter became household names.

Everywhere you turned, people were offering advice. While life-coaching wasn't a named profession yet, you could see the roots of it in books, newspapers, magazines, even on television. Those offering the advice were only outnumbered by the ones willing to lay down hard-earned money for it. It was a time of economic prosperity and everyone wanted a piece of it.

Some of the advice was unreasonable, and laughable in the year 2022, such as Powter's simplified "lose a little weight and your life will change" suggestion. However, most was pretty solid. Occasionally still, I'll refer to Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."

One of the most often shared pieces of advice though was to "get a mentor."

Even as a college student, I thought this one to be overly simplified and bizarre. It would be like reading "get a spouse." Sure, it's not a bad thing. But you can't just determine one day that it's going to happen and end up succeeding. Mentorship cannot be artificial. It can't be faked. It's a relationship like any other and has to be organic. Even today, I read articles occasionally that suggest ways to find a mentor. I always get a chuckle out of those, because I compare it to those old articles you would see for single women suggesting they approach men at the grocery store for a date.

During my days in high school and college, I cannot say I really ever had a mentor. Sure, I had plenty of people who I admired and with whom I had good relationships. Teachers, professors, ministers, coaches, family friends; I would be lying if I said those relationship did not have positive effects on me, helping shape me into the person I am today. But there was nobody I would say really qualified as a mentor.

In the year 2000, that would change. That spring, my final one at Centre College, I was somewhat adrift. I was enjoying my final days, but not really sure where I was going after graduation. I was a history and government major, which basically left three typical paths: teaching, government service or law school. I finally decided on the latter.

I knew enough to know I did not know enough about the practice of law. Typically over my summer break I would work for a day camp for physically, sexually and emotionally abused children. As important and rewarding as that job was, I knew I needed something else before entering law school. That spring break, I inquired with a few attorneys that I knew and, to a person, they all recommended I talk to Judge Tom Emberton.

Despite having lived in the same county all of my life, I had not met Judge Emberton at that point. I knew members of his family, and he members of mine, yet our paths had not crossed. However, I knew the name and the political legends well. Every time his name was mentioned, it was almost with a sense of awe and reverence. This was the man, hailing from a county of less than 10,000 people who had "almost" been governor, "almost" been in Congress and was serving as a Judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

That spring, I stopped in at his office and asked his secretary if I could make an appointment. She stepped down the hallway and about 30 seconds later emerged Judge Emberton, a tall man with a gregarious smile and accidentally bone-crushing handshake. He escorted me to his office and we began to talk. It was a bit about law school, a bit about politics, but mostly about our families and local area. It was though I was talking to an old friend, and it would be the last time I was ever nervous around him.

I worked two summers for Judge Emberton, soaking up every bit of knowledge from him that I could, both from a legal and political perspective. We had daily conversations about what was going on in our community, the state and the nation. He introduced me to people who would drop into his office, political legends from across the Commonwealth.

While I ultimately decided law school was not for me, much to the Judge's dismay, we remained close. While he was on the bench, I would often stop by to see him. We frequently saw each other at political events. And he and his wife even made the full day trip to attend my wedding.

At an early point in my career, I realized I was often thinking about lessons Judge Emberton had taught me, citing something he had told me, or just generally thinking about how he would approach a situation. It was at that point that it dawned on me that he really was my mentor, a fact that the older I get the prouder of I am.

Judge Thomas D. Emberton, at the age of 90, departed this earth earlier this month, a victim of a tragic housefire. A larger than life figure until the end, he managed to save his wife from the same fate.

He was a man of many traits. He loved his family. He served the Lord. He respected the rule of law. He revered his community, state and nation. He was the consummate gentleman, respected by all who ever met him.

To me though, despite our 45 year age difference, he was a dear friend and mentor. I will miss him, but know the positive effects he had on everyone he met, especially me, will live on forever.

Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, with roots in Adair County going back to the 18th century. He presently lives in Georgetown, Kentucky and can be reached at

This story was posted on 2022-11-02 11:00:31
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