PINEVILLE - Judge John Hrko can remember the days when Harold "Butch" Carte could bench-press more than 400 pounds.
After all, it doesn't seem that long ago.
"He was an extremely strong man," said Hrko, Wyoming County's Circuit Judge. "It's just difficult to believe that that same man took such a physical turn so quickly."
Carte, a Wyoming County magistrate, died Aug. 19 in Raleigh General Hospital at 64 years old after suffering from a short illness that quickly zapped his health. As of Aug. 1, he still was manning his courtroom, convincing Hrko that he was fit to work.
"To me, it did happen quickly," said Hrko, who had the task of appointing Carte's successor. "Butch was sick and was really trying to work and he assured me that was in good shape and he'd soon be back on top of his game.
"You don't look for this superhuman guy to turn to this frail, ill person. You just don't expect that."
Carte was in his second term as a magistrate. Formerly, he was a deputy sheriff, police chief, coal miner, U.S. Army veteran and special investigator for the county's Prosecuting Attorney's Office. He also served two terms on the Mullens City Council and is a member of the Mullens High School Football Hall of Fame.
Hrko knew him for 34 years and cherished working together.
"He was just a fine fellow and an excellent magistrate," Hrko said. "Butch was honest, hardworking and he liked people.
"He always knew he was dealing with people as opposed to paper or statistics. He was a people-person; that's somewhat of a cliche, but he knew the value of a human being and how to deal with him."
Carte was buried at Blue Ridge Memorial Gardens in Beckley.
"Butch was a great magistrate," said Wilburn Bolt, Wyoming County's chief magistrate. "He was diligent in his duty and took a lot of pride in his work. He will be sorely missed."
As the chief circuit judge, Hrko had the duty of finding a replacement for Carte's position. Two names, he said, immediately came to mind: J.R. Bowles and Ed Harless.
Hrko liked the fact that both have previous experience as a magistrate, though he eventually conceded that Harless is happily retired and probably would not have been interested in the job.
So he chose Bowles, who lost to Carte in the 2004 Democratic primary. He will serve until Dec. 2008.
"He's already trained and can go to work," Hrko said. "What we were faced with was we needed someone fast. We were a little bit behind.
"If we had to wait for training, we would've been overwhelmed. Our primary goal was to get someone who could go right away."
After being sworn in Monday morning, he went to work that night. Hrko said that rather it being a joyous occasion for Bowles, it was a somber reminder that Carte is gone.
"You can't replace friends," Hrko said. "You can put someone in that position that can do as good a job. It was sad this morning when we swore him in. It was a sad affair as opposed to being a happy one."
Surviving Carte are his wife Donna and two sons Chad, his wife Michelle and their daughter Hannah and Todd, his wife Trina and children David and Nichole.
Hrko said that later in Carte's life, he became increasingly religious as a member of the First Pentecostal Holiness Church of Mullens.
"He was a good family man, a loving father of two fine young men," Hrko said. "He was a good husband to his widow, Donna. She's a great person.
"You wish there was something you could do to take away their loss, but you can't. Nothing can help them but time, and time can't cure it. It just gets you to where you can forget about it for an hour or two.
"Everything people said of Butch was true. He was just a peach of a guy. I'll miss him."