JACKSON — Funeral services will be held Tuesday for former U.S. Magistrate John R. Countiss III, who served on the court for 30 years and held the longest tenure in the country.

Judge Countiss died Wednesday after a lengthy illness. He was 78. He served as a magistrate from 1963 until his retirement in 1993.

Funeral services are Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson. His son and daughter-in-law, John R. Countiss IV and Amy Burns Countiss, are Meridian residents.

A graduate of Millsaps College, Judge Countiss first left the state to enter the insurance business but returned a few years later to enter the then Jackson School of Law.

Judge Countiss joined a law firm composed of Sebastian Moore and Dan Lee, practicing law for nine years before his appointment to the bench as a commissioner, the precursor to magistrates. He was the first U.S. magistrate in Mississippi.

"John was one of those unforgettable characters that left you with a lot of good memories," said former Circuit Judge L. Breland Hilburn. "The outcome was always according to what the law mandated. He was serious about making sure he was carrying out the letter of the law."

Moore remembered his former law partner and friend as a conservative jurist who was "dogmatic."

"John was a good friend to have. You always knew he was on your side," Moore said.

U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate recalled Judge Countiss as being endowed with a "special form of humor that didn't please everyone."

Characterized by Moore as a man of the "Old South," Wingate recalled that Judge Countiss mellowed following an angioplasty procedure to remove a heart blockage 10 years ago.

Wingate said he and another colleague stayed with Judge Countiss all night, noting that the judge was uncertain if he would survive.

Following that experience, over time "he was not as crusty and temperamental. I thought he was more tolerant of (others) and open to differences," Wingate said.

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