There were many misty eyes, including those of the man being honored, as the long list of names scrolled down the screen. The names belonged to those murder victims for whom William R. Stokes had fought and gained justice during his career as a prosecutor in the Maine attorney general’s office.

“People he never knew,” one speaker said.

The scene at the Calumet Club in Augusta was, as Stokes suggested, almost surreal, “beyond my wildest dreams, when Diane and I made the best decision of our lives — to move to Augusta.” It was ironic, maybe even providential, that the date of Stokes’ retirement party was Aug. 1, the same date that Stokes began a job with the attorney general’s office 37 years ago.

Stokes, now also former mayor of Augusta, readies to don the robes of a justice of the Maine Superior Court. Republican Gov. Paul LePage, everyone agrees, made a splendid bipartisan choice from the “cream of the crop” for this appointment. Stokes is a registered Democrat.

His activities outside the courtroom, in the world of politics — which he now must leave — is what I am more personally familiar with, from our campaigns with him for citywide council and mayor of Augusta.

On this night, Sen. Roger Katz, who preceded Stokes as Augusta’s mayor, presented the outgoing official with a pseudo “Bill Stokes Day” proclamation.

“Stokes’ leadership and presence will be greatly missed from Augusta city government,” said City Manager Bill Bridgeo.

It was a great political run, while it lasted. I personally believe that with the right campaign, Stokes might have become governor eventually.

Stokes’ life, however, has been and always will be “in the law.” Few men and women attain the pinnacle of success in their chosen profession. Stokes has now done that with the dignity and humility that those of us who know him have grown to love and respect.

The retirement party was long, but lively, and packed with emotion as 18 speakers, led by former attorneys general for whom Stokes has worked, offered their best wishes.

Jim Tierney, the longest serving attorney general in Maine history, spoke about Stokes’ mantra that “the Constitution counts, and that there must be individual justice for all.”

Other former AGs included Drew Ketterer, who called Stokes “a legal scholar, mentor and a family man who has helped many others personally and professionally.”

Steve Rowe commented on Stokes’ motivation being a desire to “serve others” and conviction that “each person has value,” a belief that has gained him great respect from opposing defense attorneys.

Bill Schneider praised Stokes’ ability to get along with others: “What an easy guy he is to work with.”

Fellow prosecutor Stephanie Anderson talked about his “grace, (his) controlled, polite, pleasant way of behaving.”

A highlight of the evening came when Maine State Police Lt. Chris Coleman led a contingent of state troopers to honor the man with whom they had worked on many of Maine’s murder cases.

Stokes “dedicated himself to the victims he never knew, in the tireless pursuit of justice,” Coleman said, speaking about the man for whom they have gained such great respect, calling him knowledgeable and passionate. As a prosecutor, he was so effective that he would “endear himself to the jury,” Coleman said.

Peggy Greenwald, former chief medical examiner, said she enjoyed working with Stokes, who had complete confidence, and always reminded her about the importance of the law. “In each case, he would say to me, ‘All right, first let’s look at the law,'” she said.

Judge Andrew Benson marveled at how Stokes always listened intently to friends and relatives of victims, as he achieved successful resolution of more than 60 major cases involving horrendous crimes.

Lisa Marchese, a 28-year veteran in the AG’s office and Stokes’ successor as chief of the criminal division, praised the man of the night for all she had learned from him while working at his side as a prosecutor.

Attorney General Janet Mills, congratulating herself for originally hiring Stokes, was funny and emotional, calling him the “man for all seasons.”

She described many trips down the hallway at the AG’s office, shouting, “Where’s Stokes? I need Stokesy?”

Mills and others lamented that Stokes wouldn’t be there anymore, but that he was leaving things in good hands.

Fern Larochelle, assistant attorney general, and the evening’s emcee, summed up Stokes’ career by quoting his core belief: “Life has no meaning, except for the positive impact that you can have on others’ lives.”

Many victims, now long gone, rest in peace tonight because of the man who fought for them, even though he never knew them. Their families will never forget him.

Don Roberts is a former city councilor and vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta. He is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District, and a representative to the Legislative Policy Committee of Maine Municipal Association.

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