An influential leader who has made it his goal to not only succeed in life but to change other lives along the way and to make a difference in his community is, as he calls himself, nothing more than just a “little hometown boy who came back home to try to do some good.”
A native of Tifton, State Court Judge Larry B. Mims attended the public schools of Tift County, graduating from Tift County High School in 1972. He continued his education at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he graduated in 1976 with a BA in government. After working in state government for a year, he enrolled in the University of Georgia School of Law in 1977. He received his law degree in 1980 and passed the Georgia Bar exam in June of that same year.
Mims returned to Tifton to practice law in June 1980. He was engaged in the private practice of law until July 2005. In 1989, he was appointed State Court Solicitor by Gov. Joe Frank Harris. He was re-elected to that position in 1990, 1994 and 1998. He served a total of 11 years as State Court Solicitor before being appointed State Court Judge by Gov. Roy Barnes in August 2000. He was re-elected to that position in 2002, 2006 and 2010. His current term of office will end Dec. 31.
After 14 years of serving as State Court Judge in Tift County, Mims announced in January that he would not be seeking re-election.
“I just decided that I wanted to go in a different direction,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done. It’s been a real rewarding experience for me, but I think that I really want to try to do some other things that I’ve had on my mind for a while. There are certain restrictions that are placed on individuals who hold judicial positions...now I can pursue other things.”
Mims says he will continue to be very active in the community. Known for his role as co-founder of Mims Kids Inc., he said he and his wife, Joyce, started the program in 1994. The couple’s own children, M. Jay and San, hosted many of their friends in their home and they would have talent shows and do some public speaking.
“Out of that kind of grew the desire to expose them to greater things, so we formed a 501(c)(3) corporation and we started out by focusing on the arts,” he said.
One of the first things that they did was have a summer arts camp where local artists volunteered to come in for a week to work with the kids. As the kids grew older, they tried to find ways to get them exposed to other things, such as traveling to see other cities and taking part in cultural events in other places to expand their world.
Mims said they have taken participants to New York, Washington, Alabama and Atlanta.
“All of those trips were designed to kind of give these kids an opportunity to see the world and to see the possibilities out there. Our underlying goal is to make them understand that they have unlimited potential, and it’s about applying yourself, doing the right thing and being ready at a moment’s notice to step up,” he said. “We tell them all the time, ‘You may get called on at any moment and you always got to be ready to step up and do something.’ So we try to expose them and give them an opportunity to express themselves, to learn the world and to travel and see that there are other careers out there that they may not be exposed to in Tifton. But if you go somewhere and you see that and you understand what it takes to get there, at least you got a vision now that ‘I can be that.’”
Mims admitted he never imagined he could be a lawyer or never thought about being a lawyer until he saw a lawyer. He said the desire to be one began his junior year in high school when he first had the opportunity to see the late C.B. King of Albany, who had come to Tifton to represent a group of students.
“I had not ever seen an African-American lawyer,” he said. “I was very impressed by him as a person. He was very articulate, well spoken and knew the law. And at the same time, I also recognized how powerful the law was in terms of addressing behavior. He used it as a way to bring about justice and equality for people and that really struck a cord with me. I saw how it was just another tool to use, and he was a very effective person in doing that.”
Mims, who was a student during the time when schools were integrated, was very involved in school and school activities. He saw how King was able to use the law in the court system to get justice for some people.
“I see the law as just an extension of our life,” he said. “I thought the more that I knew and the more exposure that I had, the more effective I would be as a lawyer.”
Mims says he knows how someone can be inspired by what they’re exposed to and that’s why they wanted to give participants in Mims Kids that same opportunity. He said hundreds of kids have gone through the local program and several of them who are currently in college come back to help.
“What we try to do is keep that connection because we want them to draw from that experience, and we want to plant the seed in them that you’re here to help folks. There’s always somebody out there that you can help,” he said.
Mims said when his son was about 13 or 14 years old, he ran one of their summer camp programs.
“The kids really looked up to him,” he said. “He stepped in. That’s the kind of leadership that we’re trying to instill in them — you have a lot to offer and you can’t be afraid to step out there. There’s always something that you can do to help someone. By helping people you become a better person.”
Mims said the program was actually his wife’s vision.
“She was a teacher and it seemed as if that desire to make children better is just instilled in her. To this day, that’s part of what she does. She’s still a motivator, encourager, cheerleader and a very positive person who is very caring,” he said. “When kids know that you care, that makes a world of difference in how they respond to what you’re trying to do with them.”
Mims and his wife were also involved with the Stay in School Rally and the 2013 homecoming pre-game rally, which, following in the footsteps of his parents, were M. Jay’s projects as a way to give back to his community. Mims said they’re proud of him wanting to come back home after graduating college to address the problem of dropouts and children not pursuing education. He noted M. Jay had a desire to bring kids together and give them a boost by helping them with supplies and trying to keep them engaged. He said they will continue with these types of programs.
When asked what attributed to his success, Mims said, “I’ve been very blessed. The Lord has really blessed me with a very strong, caring and determined mother; a very loving, caring and concerned wife who complements me well and helps me be a better person; and a family that’s just...I can’t describe how blessed I am to have the family that I have. All of that together makes life a lot better and makes challenges less challenging.”
Early on in his life, his mother instilled in him the value of an education. He got an opportunity to see that because when he was very small, his mother was still in college.
“I got to see how important it was to her and she never let up on that,” he said. “I think that was kind of a start on my quest for wanting to be a better person.” He said there were also many people in the community who encouraged and inspired him along the way.
Mims’ outlook on today’s youth is that “any youth in any area in any generation needs guidance and structure and people who care about them.”
“I think we’ve got good kids here,” he said. “I think what we really need to do is to continue to focus on how we as adults can help them navigate through life.” He
called them “our kids.”
“They all belong to us,” he said. “It’s our job to try to make the way better for them. We got to give them the tools they need to be able to survive.”
When asked about his advice to young people when it comes to pursuing their goals, Mims said, “Kids need to identify what it is that you enjoy and that you want to do and then prepare yourself to do it.” He added that there are certain things you can’t prepare for, but there are things that you have to do to put yourself in a position to be able to perform most jobs. He said education is at the top.
“There’s a big world out there and anything out there is yours to grab. You just got to want it and go after it,” he advised. “You got to be able to put aside distractions and have a tunnel vision about what you want.”
Mims has served on the board of directors of the Tift County Commission on Children and Youth, PLIGHT Inc., the Children and Youth Coordinating Council and the United Way. He is a member of the State Bar of Georgia and is the immediate past president of the Council of State Court Judges. He has served on the Judicial Council of Georgia, the Judicial Council Committee on Court Reporting Matters and the State Bar Advisory Committee on Legislation. He recently joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Board and is also on an outreach committee at the Tiftarea YMCA. In 2009, he was recognized by the Gate City Bar Association’s Judicial Section as an “Outstanding Jurist” at the State Bar of Georgia’s annual meeting. In May 2013, he was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Judicial Retirement Service by Gov. Nathan Deal. Mims has one grandchild, Reuben.
Mims says his next step is to enjoy his last months on the bench, and as he’s doing that, he’s going to think about what it is that he really wants to do. He will continue to work with children and try to be a positive influence on them.
“I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and just hoping that we can make an impact on at least one at a time,” he said, smiling.
Editor’s Note: We will feature articles on Friday’s this month focused on local leaders in the black community, celebrating Black History Month.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.