When the Hon. H. Gregory Williams retires this week after 10 years as the first justice in Edgartown district court, he’ll have some free time on his hands. No more days spent in court on the Vineyard and elsewhere, writing decisions and being on call at all hours for pressing judicial matters; no more commutes from his home on Cape Cod to the bench in Edgartown.

“One of the things I’m going to do, it’s a little amorphous, is volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary,” the judge said this week. “It’s going to give me a place to go, at least a few times a week for a little while, and it’s going to get me outside. I’m going to give that a try anyway.

“When I was a kid I wanted to be a herpetologist,” he added. “You can see the progression from herpetologist to English major to judge. It’s a natural thing. Many of my colleagues share that same path.”

Judge Williams plans to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary in his retirement. — Mark Lovewell

He paused a minute to let the irony of that statement sink in. “Or not.”

Judge Williams, who turned 65 on Tuesday, will take the bench for the last time Friday at the Edgartown courthouse. His successor will be the Hon. J. Thomas Kirkman — a fellow Maryland native, Judge Williams points out. “I think he’s going to fit in very well here,” he said. A farewell ceremony will be held Friday afternoon.

Each of roughly 69 different district courts in the commonwealth has its own personality, Judge Williams said this week during an interview at his office in the courthouse, which looks out at the Old Whaling Church. A picture of Abraham Lincoln sat on one of the bookshelves and a large Black’s Law Dictionary occupied space on his desk.

While Judge Williams was appointed as the first justice in Edgartown, he often presides in other courts on days the Edgartown court is not in session. Off the Vineyard, Judge Williams has presided in Falmouth, Barnstable, Orleans, Plymouth, New Bedford, Wareham, Fall River, and that other island court, Nantucket.

“I think a lot of the issues that face the district court are the same,” he said. “They vary in intensity.”

For example, he said, the Vineyard doesn’t have the gang activity of New Bedford. “But a lot of the problems that are engendered by the opiate addiction pandemic, they’re everywhere, they’re in every court now. It’s just a matter of scale, really. That’s obviously a big problem and a big source of the numbers of cases that we have,” he said. “Domestic violence is a big problem everywhere. Again, something of a matter of scale.”

But the Vineyard is also misunderstood, Judge Williams said.

“Throughout other parts of the commonwealth, I think sometimes I run into my colleagues or other people and they think ‘Oh, Martha’s Vineyard, there’s nothing going on there. What is it, a couple of OUI cases in the summer from tourists,’ that sort of thing.

“I try to educate people that no, the Vineyard’s not immune to all of the problems that everyone faces everywhere,” he said.

And in the summers, the court is also not immune to the increase in activity that the rest of the Island sees. “Well, the boat trip’s different,” Judge Williams said. “But the numbers certainly do pick up on you.”

“The Cape and here and Nantucket, you are going to get those tourists who, when they cross the bridge onto the Cape think that the rules don’t apply anymore, and when they get on a ferry to come over here and on a plane they apply even less,” he said. “You do get people who feel like they’re on vacation and feel like they can and should be able to do whatever they want to do. I don’t mean that to sound like they’re arrogant about it but it’s a mindset, when people are on vacation they aren’t as careful as they otherwise would be. The numbers of cases pick up.

“But there is that constant of the people who live here who have again the same problems that anyone else has.”

Judge Williams lives on the Cape with his wife Marianne, their daughter Livvy, 14, and four cats. Two sons, Leighton, 33, and Collin, 30, live in Florida.

The judge begins and ends his work days on the Patriot, the sturdy mail boat that runs between Falmouth harbor and Oak Bluffs and carries commuters along with newspapers and small freight. “I like it,” he said. “When you are on the Patriot, you know you’ve been on a boat, when you get off that thing in certain kinds of weather.” He pulled out his phone to show pictures of icy water in February. “It looks like the Arctic Circle,” he said.

While the judge said he never thought he would end up working and living in Massachusetts — let alone Martha’s Vineyard — law was at one time also an unlikely career. He studied English as an undergraduate, and went on to the University of London for graduate study in 20th century British literature.

The author he lists first among his favorites is Ted Hoagland, the nature writer who lives in Edgartown and is known to frequent the courthouse to watch proceedings. “We’ve become friends, actually,” the judge said.

Other favorites are John Berryman, W.H. Auden, and the World War I poets. He’s also a fan of a lesser-known British author, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

“I read a lot of different kinds of stuff,” he said.

After his studies, “I couldn’t get a job,” Judge Williams said. “So I decided to go to law school.” He attended Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Va., and then went on to almost 20 years of private practice in Western Massachusetts and three years working in the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.

He was appointed an associate justice by Gov. Paul Cellucci in 1999, starting out in Springfield before moving to an appointment on the Cape. In 2005, there was an opening on the Vineyard, when first justice Hon. Brian Rowe retired. Judge Williams applied and was appointed to the spot.

Trying to remember exactly when he took the bench, he looked around his desk for something he found while cleaning out the office: an invitation to his swearing-in ceremony on Nov. 4, 2005.

“So I’m calling it 10 years,” he said.

There is a lot of work off the bench, Judge Williams said, including written decisions. While some judges tend not to write as much, “I try to write out as much as I can on rulings on motions and that sort of thing,” he said, from motions to suppress to summary judgments.

“I tend to really write those out because I think that people, although they might not agree with you, I think they are at least entitled to know how you got to the decision that you did arrive at.”

The judge was also the presiding justice of the southern district of the appellate division of the district court. Judge Williams picked up one of several light blue bound volumes of appellate court decisions sitting on a shelf next to several books about Winston Churchill. “Here’s one, this involves a wind turbine,” he said. “And I wrote this one . . . it takes a long time to write these.”

His academic background led to a commitment to being the sort of judge who writes a lot. “I’ll leave it to others to judge how effective that was,” he said, “but it was at least fueled by interest in wanting to do it, in wanting to write, and my belief that people who are involved with the case are entitled to know as much as they can about how you reached the decision you did resulted in writing a lot more than other judges do, not most of them but a lot of them.”

He continued: “This morning there was a motion to suppress. That one I will not write a long decision on. I’m running out of time.”

A few days later, the judge was behind the bench in the old second-story courtroom. “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye,” court officer John Hanavan said to open the court session, announcing for the second to last time the Hon. H. Gregory Williams (the H stands for Howard) as the first justice of the Edgartown district court.

And with that Judge Williams went about the business of the day: a drunken driving arraignment, an arraignment on drug charges, a few probation matters.

He’ll miss aspects of the work, Judge Williams said, mostly the people at the court.

“It sounds like such a cliche when you say that,” he said. “It’s the truth. Because the staff here is really amazing.” He listed off clerk magistrate Liza Williamson and her staff, session clerks, the probation department, the police, lawyers and support staff. “I feel like I’ve made friends here, and I’ll try to keep up with people here.”

“I think it works pretty well here. That might not be a universally held opinion, and I understand that it is an adversarial system. Not everybody is happy all the time. In fact, almost every time I open my mouth almost half the people involved in what I have to say don’t like it, and I’ve been acutely aware of that, and I’ve just tried to be as even-handed as I can be. And I think that’s all I really can do in this job.”

He said he hopes to keep up with his Vineyard friends, though he won’t be visiting the Island three days a week nor head straight to the courthouse. “I’d like to spend more time here in a different role,” he said.