Once he was a street drunk, an ex-con begging for money to buy wine.
At 44, widowed and estranged from his children, John Delgado gave up drinking and got a job as a school janitor. That was 1972. In 1975, he signed up for his first college class.
At 66, he was sworn in as a lawyer, capping a struggle that saw him, in the words of retired state Supreme Court Justice Robert Glass, crawl out from “the human junk pile.”
“This is indeed a miracle,” said Glass. I knew you 40 years ago. The ‘experts’ would have predicted you’d be dead by now, but you turned yourself around.”
Delgado received a standing ovation from an overflow of family, friends, lawyers, teachers, ministers and fellow recovering alcoholics who jammed into every seat in the Superior Courtroom.
“They should bring all the people from their cells to see this,” said Court Clerk Catherine Capuano, who was moved to tears. “He’s an inspiration.”
After Judge Francis McDonald swore him in as a lawyer, an overwhelmed Delgado quietly thanked all who helped him. “I thank God and all the people that God put in my life to reach my moment here,” he said as he glanced over at his mother, Ruth Otey, 89. She blew him a kiss.
“I will be a POOR lawyer but I hope a GOOD one,” he added.
Delgado, a Korean War veteran, was a school janitor at Clocum School when he decided to start college. He graduated from Mattatuck Community College and then went on to get a law degree from Vermont Law School in 1987. He was 59. He passed the bar exam on his 10th try.
Delgado survived the scrutiny of the bar-examining committee, which examined his past, including time in prison for attempted robbery and other felonies. His record was wiped clean in 1988 by the state board of pardons.
“Never have I attended a swearing-in ceremony with a greater outpouring of affection from the community,” said Herbert Emanuelson Jr., a Madison attorney on the bar committee that reviewed Delgado. “He is a remarkable person.”
Delgado, who owes thousands of dollars in student loans, has no jobs lined up. He said later he intends to rest a few days and then start looking.
“We knew him as Johnny,” said Rev. Roger Floyd, who had a street ministry in the late 1960s. “Persistence and faith brought him a new life. What John was in the past is long over. What’s important now is how far he’s come.”