Judge John Handley
Although he never lived in Winchester Judge Handley’s love of the town and its people developed through friends and acquaintances living in the town. Upon his death Judge Handley bequeathed $250,000 to Winchester to be invested by its leaders. When the investment reached a value of $500,000 it was to be used to build a library [the Handley Library]. In addition, the remaining amount of the estate was to be accumulated for twenty years and was to be used to build schools for the education of the poor. The trust was to be governed by the Handley Board of Trustees, created in 1896 by an act of the Virginia legislature. John Handley High School was built by the use of funds from this trust.
John Handley [spelled Hanly by his family until he came to America] was born January 27, 1835, in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland. In the years following his naturalization in 1850 until his death in February of 1895 john Handley worked as a carpenter, studied law, moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for the administration of President James Buchanan. He was accepted to the bar of the circuit court of the District of Columbia, and studied in the law School of Columbia University. He married Catherine Barnwelle Livingston Thayer, a widow, and became a stepfather to her son Philip Livingston Thayer.
He settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania and practiced law in Luzerne County. He was a great admirer of Stonewall Jackson and expressed clear sympathies during the civil war for the south. In spite of these sympathies it is surprising to learn that he served for three months in the Union Army of the Potomac-8th Infantry Regiment, Company E of the Pennsylvania Militia.
He was an extremely successful businessman, judge of several courts of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and president judge of the several courts of Lackawanna County.
His concern for the less fortunate and charitable actions were evident throughout his life not just in his last requests. Upon his death many, many tributes were paid to his practice of providing for the expenses of many students in various schools and colleges. This continued through provisions in his will for all of the students attending school at the time of his death.
Judge Handley’s bequest created a publicly endowed school but more importantly it created an environment, a culture of support, and appreciation for public education. We work in a school system that values excellence, produces achievement, and cares about students as a result of the actions of this benefactor.
The true value of John Handley’s gift can best be seen in the faces of the students who stand about his monument in the spring of each school year. They are a testament to the fact that one person can make a difference.
John Handley had a vision but more importantly he acted upon that vision. The lesson for us now and in the future is that the people who make a difference in our lives are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care for others, and act upon that sentiment.
History, tradition, pride, accomplishment these things are only realized by the fulfillment of our promise, our contributions, and our influence in the world. We offer gratitude and recognition to John Handley for providing the spark that focused a community. But for those of us fortunate enough to work and learn in this special place we must continually remind ourselves that the worth of our actions is solely dependent upon our ability and willingness to turn opportunity into accomplishments. This is the foundation of our success and the true meaning of Handley Pride.