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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 20 2012

Longtime Fargo judge back on bench after nearly fatal battle with pancreatitis

FARGO – Fargo Municipal Court Judge Tom Davies is back on the bench.

Davies, who has been municipal judge for more than 40 years, started presiding over trials again Tuesday after a nearly deadly battle with pancreatitis.

He plans to be in court, at least through the end of his term in June, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings as his stamina improves.

“That’s my one holdback right now. I’ve been in a nice healing process, but it’s been a long time,” he said Thursday.

Davies was stricken with pancreatitis last May. He was in intensive care for two months, and was heavily sedated and unconscious, he said. He spent several more months in the hospital and in physical therapy.

“It was scare city for yours truly; not a lot of things that make me totally nervous,” he said, adding that his family had been told a couple of times that he might not survive.

Still, his recovery didn’t really take off until doctors did corrective surgery in March, he said.

“That really did it. The health started going back on track, and the health started improving dramatically after that,” Davies said.

Davies said doctors removed his gall bladder and repaired his colon.

“The parts that caused me problems are no longer there. So I don’t have to worry about the same thing happening again,” the 73-year-old said. “Though I don’t want to surrender any more body parts to anybody for anything.”

Davies said in March he wouldn’t seek re-election in June because he didn’t know how fast his health would return.

He also wanted to be fair to his deputy judge, Steve Dawson, and anyone else who wanted to run.

“I’m hopeful that as my health improves I can be a deputy judge for whoever is elected judge, to kind of keep me busy and to keep the scofflaws on their toes,” Davies said.

Tuesday, though, was “a really special day for me. I’ve never in my life had a surprise party,” he said.

He said he normally charges into the courtroom focused and sits down quickly to get to work.

“I got halfway to the chair, and I was looking at it. I wasn’t looking at the courtroom. And all of a sudden, there’s clapping and cheering and yelling. … It startled me right out of my wits.

“The prosecuting attorneys, the defense attorneys, the police department. The courtroom was absolutely packed with people that were welcoming me back,” Davies said.

“There’s a courtroom of people that can guarantee that it is true that there are times my mouth doesn’t work,” he said. “I was at an absolute loss for words. How they got that many people in that courtroom … I don’t know. I’ve never been so honored and flattered in my whole life,” Davies said.

He also praises his wife for her love and steadfast support.

Now, he wants to gain back some weight. He dropped from 190 pounds to 130 at the worst of the illness. He’s now 150 pounds. “and I still look like a refugee from a WWII prison.”

He’d like to get back to 170 pounds, he said.

He turned 73 on April 4.

“This particular birthday was the best birthday I’ve ever had,” he said. “Because nobody expected me to be here to celebrate it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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