I've been doing news reporting in Easton for nearly 11 years now, but I'd only really gotten to know District Judge Gay Elwell in the last two.
We'd both worked for The Morning Call as reporters in its Easton bureau, although she'd already been on the bench for five years by the time I came to town. I'd stop by her court during my newspaper days, but it was never with any consistency.
Once I got this job, that changed, and her downtown Easton offices (first in Centre Square, then, oddly enough, inside the former Morning Call offices) became part of my normal routine.
On Monday, when my friend Joe Frinzi called to give me the news that Elwell had been found dead, I had to pull my car over, mostly out of confusion. It seemed like a horrible rumor, until I began getting other calls, and then confirmed it with the court administrator.
It wasn't an easy story to write. I've written about horrible deaths at four different publications, but none of them involved anyone I knew.
The confusion, shock and sadness I felt were pretty common in Easton, which was feeling shock, confusion and sadness yesterday.
At Elwell's office Tuesday, her staff soldiered on. They had wanted to go home, but said the county had them stay.
(For the record: It seems cold and unfair not to allow these people -- who considered the judge a friend as much as a boss -- to have maybe a day to grieve.)
Flower arrangements and food lined the counters. Constables and cops and workers from other district courts came to offer condolences. Elwell's staff had been with her for years, some of them since the beginning. (Her "newest" hire has been there eight years.) There were tears, of course, as they remembered their friend.
Earlier in the day, they'd gotten a condolence call from a woman who had been before the judge as a defendant. She was charged with prostitution, but later turned her life around, got an education, and got married. She asked Elwell to officiate, and invited the whole office to the wedding.
Elwell married quite a few people around the city, judging from posts on the Easton, Pennsylvania Facebook page.
"I went before [Judge Elwell] twice once as a victim and once as a defendant, and in both cases i found her to be fair and compassionate," wrote a commenter on our original story about the judge's death. "The justice system is going to be at a loss without her."
Timothy Hare, an Easton architect and gallery owner, posted a YouTube eulogy Tuesday for Elwell.
In it, he recalls how his sister needed a liver transplant -- he turned to the Morning Call to publicize her case. It was Elwell who wrote the story.
"She just dropped everything," Hare said in the video. "Of course she would."
Her story ran, and found its way to the Geisinger Medical Center. The parents of a girl who had just died in a car crash donated her liver to Hare's sister.
His sister survived the operation, but passed away just before Hare met Elwell for the first time...31 years ago on Tuesday.
People in Easton are already planning tributes to her. On Jan. 5, Easton Yoga will host "Can't Fill These Shoes," an art exhibit in Elwell's memory. Proceeds from the show will go to one of the judge's favorite charities.
I enjoyed talking to her when I could. She was funny, straightforward, helpful, kind and quotable. I was happy to have her as a reader.
"Easton is a lesser place without her" is something I've seen/heard a lot of people say in the last two days. Add me to that list.