Login | September 24, 2018

Memorial to be held for former Portage County chief magistrate

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 25, 2017

Family, colleagues and friends will come together in Ravenna on Oct. 1 to celebrate the life of former Portage County Juvenile/Probate Court Chief Magistrate James J. Aylward.

The longtime magistrate and Ravenna resident passed away on Aug. 17 at the age of 67.

“Jim was my best friend,” said his wife Laura Aylward. “He was the better half of our cute little couple. 

“Jim was a very giving man and he did so freely without expecting anything back.

“He was a very ethical man, who took great pride in his work. He was concerned with doing things the right way and was not afraid to make difficult decisions.”

Ravenna Police Captain and Assistant Chief of Police Dave Rarrick described Aylward as “a generous person, willing to help anyone he could.

“He was an extremely fair magistrate,” said Rarrick. “He always sought to return children to their families whenever possible. I don’t think I ever met a guy who cared as much as he did about children.”

Born in Akron on Dec. 4, 1949 to Edward E. Aylward and Kathryn L. (Bragg), he was one of two children.

Aylward graduated from Archbishop Hoban High School in 1967, receiving his bachelor’s degree in labor economics and his juris doctor from The University of Akron.

His wife said he moved to Portage County while in college.

Aylward served as a sole practitioner, handling matters ranging from domestic relations to civil and criminal cases, for many years prior to becoming chief magistrate.

While in private practice, he shared office space with attorney David Sed, a solo practitioner and assistant public defender in Ravenna.

“I met Jim in the early 1980s when I was in the prosecutor’s office,” said Sed. “I’ve known him ever since.

“Jim is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life,” said Sed. “He’s very knowledgeable and well read. He was an excellent attorney. We’ve been on the opposite side of cases and served as co-counsel.

“I will say I liked it much better when he was on my team. He was an excellent attorney whose word was his bond and he was always prepared.”

Aylward spent about six years in the Portage County Public Defender’s Office at the beginning of his career, leaving at the end of 1988 to take on the role of chief assistant prosecutor in the Criminal Division of the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office.

From 1992 to 1996, he served as magistrate/referee in the Portage County Juvenile/Probate Court. Prior to becoming chief magistrate in June 1997, he held the position of Portage County Public Defender for about 18 months. He served as chief magistrate until he retired in March 2015.

Aylward met his current wife, Laura, in the early 1980s when she was an assignment clerk in the Portage County Municipal Court.

They do not have any children but Aylward had two children from his previous marriage.

Cuyahoga Falls criminal defense attorney George Keith first got to know Aylward when they were in law school.

“Jim was a law clerk at Giulitto & Dickinson and I was working in the juvenile court in Portage County,” said Keith.

“We later worked together in the Public Defender’s Office in Portage County in the mid-1980s and we shared office space briefly in Cuyahoga Falls.”

The two became friends.

“Jim was very bright and liked to help people,” said Keith. “He was naturally curious and critical thinking was important to him. He enjoyed being physically active and he always kept himself busy with positive things.

“He valued his relationship with his wife tremendously,” he said. “She was a godsend to him.”

A former president of the Portage County Bar Association, Aylward served as a board member of the Ohio Association of Magistrates and as its ethics chair for over 10 years.

“Jim valued his relationship and friendship with his father greatly,” said Laura. “His father was a wonderful person who encouraged him to do the right thing and help those in need. I think his dad was the source of his inspiration to volunteer as much as he did.”

Aylward was a volunteer board member for a number of local nonprofits, including the Boys & Girls Club, Townhall II, which offers prevention, treatment and recovery services and Leadership Portage County as well as public entities like the Kent Civil Service Commission, the Kent Charter Review Commission, the Kent Planning Commission and later the Portage County Regional Planning Commission.

He also spent over 10 years as a Townhall II Helpline volunteer.

But none of those efforts matched his dedication to Family & Community Services in Ravenna.

One of the largest nonprofit agencies in northeast Ohio, it provides food, clothing, shelter, counseling and mentoring services to people in need.

Mark Frisone, executive director of Family & Community Services, said Aylward was on the board of trustees for over 21 years and was currently serving his eighth year as president of the board.

“During his association we grew from a $2 million to a $30 million organization, which was directly attributable to Jim,” said Frisone. “He used his legal skills to review documents, leases and contracts and effectuated over 30 mergers and acquisitions with other nonprofits in northeast Ohio and Michigan.

“He did this totally on a volunteer basis while still maintaining a full-time job,” he said.

“He was a friend and colleague, dedicated to our mission here. We are definitely saddened by his loss.”

Aylward was also an amateur radio operator (call sign KC8PD) and enjoyed providing public service and emergency communications.

He led the communications unit of the Portage County Emergency Management Agency and was a member of the EMA’s Incident Management Assistance Team. He coordinated radio communications support for local events such as the Cleveland Marathon.

He also volunteered with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service serving the Red Cross in Ocean Springs, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

Aylward was one of the founding members of the Portage County Amateur Radio Service and was its original vice president and then president.

“When Jim started the Portage County Amateur Radio Service he approached me to be a member,” said Rarrick.

“We became very good friends,” he said. “His loss has been extremely difficult.

“I am a better person for having known Jim Aylward,” said Rarrick.

Aylward is survived by his wife Laura, daughter Jennifer C. (JohnMark) Blakley, his sister Constance Aylward, father- and mother-in-law Eugene and Judy Scott, sister-in-law Holly (Bruce) Saxe, stepmother Geri Aylward as well as his aunt, Dorothy Aylward and many cousins.

His father Edward E. Aylward, mother Kathryn L. (Joseph) Lux and his son Michael W. Aylward all preceded him in death.

Aylward’s memorial will be held on Oct. 1 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Wood-Kortright-Borkoski Funeral Home at 703 E. Main St. in Ravenna.