Emmett “Corky” Galloway Jr. was an unintentional trailblazer, among the first black probation officers in Hennepin County. During his three-decade career in Minnesota’s largest county, he helped thousands of adults in the criminal justice system, consistently offering a smile and hope as a champion for their cases.

“He really instilled in me … while you can’t save everyone, you can certainly try,” Hennepin County District Judge Kevin Burke said. “Over his almost 30 years in corrections, there would be literally thousands of people he made a difference for.”

Galloway, of Bloomington, died June 7. He was 77.

As he grew up in the Summit-University neighborhood of St. Paul, hard times hit his family. His parents divorced and he ended up in foster care for years and then at a homeless shelter for youth.

Grappling with abandonment and homelessness would shape the rest of his life, his family and friends said, but it may also have inspired him to pursue a career as an outreach caseworker under a federal program that trained workers and provided them with jobs in public service. Soon after, Galloway got the probation officer job. He was one of the few people of color in the role at the time.

“He didn’t see himself as a trailblazer, but looking back, he really was,” said Jay Hester, a corrections unit supervisor in the county who considered Galloway a mentor when she started out as a probation officer in the 1990s. “He just saw it as, ‘This is my calling.’ He was just willing to go the extra mile, and he understood what the barriers were more so than others because of his life.”

After graduating from what was then Marshall High School in St. Paul, Galloway attended Metro State and the University of Minnesota. As a probation officer, he mentored clients at risk of incarceration. He insisted they call him by his nickname, Corky, and he visited them in person at their homes.

“There weren’t a lot of options for people of color,” said his son, Marcus Galloway. “He could say he’s been there.”

It was a stressful job — even dangerous. One time Galloway was physically assaulted by a client while walking to work, as he did each day on Chicago Avenue.

Over the years, some people in criminal justice may get burned out or cynical, Burke said, but not Galloway; he had “infectious optimism,” remaining upbeat and sincere as he made recommendations on a sentencing or revoking probation.

He always had compassion and a smile on his face, Hennepin County District Judge Tanya Bransford added.

“He never forgot where he came from,” said Ken Pugh, a retired probation officer who grew up with Galloway in St. Paul. “He always treated people with respect — whether it was an addict on the street or a judge.”

“He helped a lot of people,” said Ron Sundell, another friend and retired probation officer who spent years camping and fishing with Galloway.

Galloway loved fishing, participating in bowling leagues and playing in a jazz quartet. After retiring from the county after 29 years, he worked part-time at a nonprofit to help men who were involved in domestic abuse.

“He was very much committed to working in and for the community,” said Bransford’s father, Jim Bransford, who worked for the county and nonprofits as a chemical dependency counselor and community outreach worker. “His impact in the community was significantly broader [than the county].”

Galloway is survived by his sister, Beverly Galloway-Propes of Minneapolis, and brother, Edgar Dysart of Atlanta, nine children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Services have been held.