• By John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

‘God gave me an experience to help others’, Blackford Sr. speaks about trials and opportunities

Larry Blackford Sr. has been, and is, many things to the people of Woodford County: a star basketball player and coach, teacher, jail chaplain, and member of more than a dozen various associations and commissions.

The 64-year-old also happens to be the first African-American magistrate in the history of Woodford County.

“I think it’s very neat that that has occurred and I was the one to be able to accomplish that, with the community’s support. It’s an honor,” said Blackford, a Democrat representing the 6th Magisterial District. Even today, all too often, people of different races don’t know enough about one another, Blackford said, and he hopes to “bring some things to the court that they’re not accustomed to hearing.” His victory last November and unsuccessful bid for the same seat in 2014 before were sparked by the same motivations that have guided his life, he said.

“I’m pretty much involved in a lot of things in the community, and I thought that would be another way of getting involved with government and helping people, serving people,” Blackford said during an interview Monday at the Woodford County Library. Blackford grew up in Woodford County, the eldest son of Ethel and Walter “Seymour” Blackford. He said his mother had him at a very young age, so he was raised in his grandmother’s home on Macey Avenue with another grandson of hers. He said it didn’t feel odd growing up in his grandmother’s home, because he spent so much time at the home of his parents, who had six more children.

“It was a neat situation,” Blackford said, adding that when he walked into his parents’ home, his mother always knew if he had a problem. Both of his parents passed away before they were 55, he said.

“My life (was) really built around church, sports and just doing things with the community. I met a lot of people that way,” Blackford said. He graduated from Woodford County High School in 1973. After that, he took his hoops skills and desire for a college education to Eastern Kentucky University, then Transylvania University, where he was named an All-American and graduated in 1977. Blackford taught at Simmons Elementary for two years, then at Sayre School in Lexington, Liberty Baptist College, and other area elementary schools before retiring from teaching in 2004.

Blackford said along the way, he had several opportunities to work and live elsewhere, “but for some reason, I always stayed in this area.

… I also feel like I was blessed to be successful in so many things … that I wanted to come back here and be a mentor and help other people.”

The chance to help people who are in a bad place, literally and figuratively, is what drew him to serve as a chaplain at the Federal Medical Center prison in Lexington and the Woodford County Detention Center. As a youth basketball coach, Blackford worked the other end of the spectrum, trying to make sure the lessons about effort teamwork he taught on the court stayed with his young players long after the last whistle blew.

Opioid task force

At Woodford Fiscal Court’s first meeting of the year, Judge-Executive James Kay announced that Blackford would chair a task force aimed at combating the opioid problem. The group will include representatives of law enforcement, the detention center, the Woodford County Health Department and other groups – but will be led by a man who lost his son to a drug overdose on Christmas Day 2017.

Blackford said he and his wife, Nancy, were expecting James Jr. to come home late Christmas morning. When he didn’t, and they couldn’t reach him, Blackford got in his car and drove towards Lexington. He didn’t have to go far. He saw his son’s car parked across from Blue Grass Airport, pointed towards Versailles, and he drove to Man O’ War Boulevard so he could turn around and come back.

“It seemed like that stoplight was red forever,” Blackford said.

Larry Blackford Jr., 30, who had sought treatment for his addiction more than once, was dead of an opioid-fentanyl overdose. His father said he is comforted by the knowledge that Larry Jr. is in heaven – and determined to help others avoid his son’s fate.

“God works in mysterious ways,” Blackford said. “I can help others who are addicts and parents who have children who are addicts, and the people who surround them. There are so many people who are hurting from addiction, and the parents and loved ones don’t know how to treat them … and I was blessed for God to help me deal with my son – that no matter what he was doing, I loved him. …”

Blackford said most people don’t know enough about the struggle addicts face, and that part of the opioid task force’s mission is to help parents, teachers, coaches and counselors be more aware of such things. The first African-American member of Woodford Fiscal Court is likely to be very busy the next four years, but Blackford seems humbled by the chance to help others and confident in his ability to do so.

“ …People in the community are going to feel better and want to contribute more … when they feel like we’re working together and making decisions that are best for the community. Not that everything we do is going to please everybody, but I think if you make the right decisions, and you rationally think things out, I know it has a positive effect. “Every job in life, God placed me there for a reason.” Magistrate Larry Blackford (Dist. 6) can be reached at lblackford@woodfordcountyky.org.

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