Thomas Randolph Monroe, 80, the first African American judge in Arlington County as well as the first judge to serve on all three Arlington courts, died of congestive heart failure Jan. 28 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.
Judge Monroe served on the bench from 1972 until illness forced his retirement in 1993. When he retired, then-Chief Circuit Judge William L. Winston said his legacy was his compassion as well as his competence.
Thomas R. Monroe was a community activist for years before his appointment as a judge.
"He was tough when circumstances called for it, but above all, he was compassionate. I never saw him do a mean thing," Winston said at the time.
An Arlington County Bar Association award named after Winston was presented to Judge Monroe in 2000. He was the first black member of that bar association.
Born in the Eastern Shore's Northampton County, near Cape Charles, Va., Judge Monroe worked as a caddy at a whites-only golf course and was a star center fielder for the town's baseball team. He graduated from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte and served as a sergeant in the Army in the Pacific and European theaters during World War II. He received his law degree from Howard University in 1951 and set up a private law practice in Arlington the next year.
He practiced law for 20 years and quickly established himself as a civic leader, serving as president of the Arlington chapter of the NAACP in 1955 and circulating a petition to desegregate Arlington's schools. Into the early 1970s, he stayed in the struggle, joining a group of parents whose children attended the all-black Drew Elementary School in a desegregation suit against the county.
He became a substitute judge in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in 1972, a General District Court judge in 1976 and the state's second black Circuit Court judge in 1982.
Judge Monroe was on the board of directors of the Arlington County Action program. He was president of the Nauck Citizens Association and on the county's criminal justice advisory committee and its human relations commission. He was a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and an avid golfer.
One of his sons, Charles P. Monroe, an Arlington County Board member, died in 2003 during his first regular meeting as chairman.
Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Eleanor Ames Monroe, who was the first African American member of the Arlington School Board; a son, Thomas R. Monroe Jr. of Fairfax County; a daughter, Patricia M. Meek of Fairfax County; a sister, Beatrice Ames of Arlington; a brother, James Monroe of Cranberry, N.J.; and six grandchildren.