Judge John Covolo remembered for his big heart

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The community is grieving the loss of one of its most beloved judges who was known for his big heart and kind spirit.

District Court Judge John J. Covolo, who has served on the bench for more than a decade, died Sunday following a battle with bladder cancer. He was 68.

“John had a brilliant mind and a great sense of humor,” said Chief District Court Judge William C. Farris.

Prior to his appointment to the bench, Covolo served as an assistant district attorney in Wilson County.

Farris said not only did Covolo prosecute thousands of defendants, but he also heard thousands of cases as a judge.

“And in every one of those cases, he injected a bit of compassion,” Farris said. “He truly was a good person.”

Doris Brantley, who was Covolo’s assistant for many years, said she’s heartbroken over the loss of such a wonderful person who loved to make people laugh.

“He always kept a joke going with everybody in the office all the time,” she said.

She said Covolo truly made a difference in the lives he touched each day in the courtroom.

“He had a big heart while he was in the courtroom,” she said. “He administered justice the way he felt he needed to help people. He wanted to get the point across, but he also wanted them to understand you have to choose the right path for your destiny.”

Brantley and Covolo were also the best of friends.

“He was my big brother, and I was his little sister,” she said. “He was just so happy all the time.”


Covolo was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2017. He shaved his head and beard due to chemotherapy. Soon after, attorneys, judges and other judicial staff rallied around him to show their support. They shaved their heads, too.

Officials said Covolo truly cared for the people in the cases he worked, whether it was a family going through a divorce or a juvenile going down the wrong path.

Farris said while Covolo had to rule against one side or the other, lawyers always respected him.

“He was just trying to do what was right, and they knew that,” Farris said. “Every lawyer in our district loved him.”

Farris said Covolo loved his children dearly as well as his animals.


Covolo was also famous for getting everyone in the court system together, Farris said.

Once a year, Covolo would take over a closed courtroom in Rocky Mount and cook a massive homemade spaghetti feast. Farris said Covolo would invite judicial and law enforcement personnel from Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties.

“He would make enough for hundreds of people,” he said. “He did it every year. It was Covolo’s spaghetti lunch.”

Brantley said he loved his colleagues like family and would always help them if they were in need. They did the same in return, especially during his time battling cancer.

“He loved to give to other people,” she said. “He was a big man, but he was a teddy bear. He’s going to be missed.”

Wheeler & Woodlief Funeral Home in Rocky Mount is handling arrangements.