CEDAR RAPIDS — Judge Edward McManus spent more than seven decades serving his country and state.
The Northern District of Iowa judge spent more than 50 years on the bench, served as lieutenant governor and in the Iowa senate, was city attorney for his hometown of Keokuk and flew as a flight instructor for the Navy during World War II.
Along the way, he picked up a tale or two, those who knew him fondly recall.
“He was quite a storyteller, said Deb Frank, McManus’ judicial assistant for 27 years. “You can only imagine the stories he had.”
McManus, 97, died Monday in Cedar Rapids. His son said McManus was still taking cases, nearly 55 years after his friend, President John F. Kennedy, appointed him chief judge of the Northern District of Iowa.
“I think it was just part of his DNA,” David McManus, a Cedar Rapids lawyer, said of his father’s work ethic. “His mother died at 106. He was wired for that.”
Born in Keokuk on Feb. 9, 1920, McManus would later attend St. Ambrose College before transferring to the University of Iowa. There, he joined the Phi Delta Phi legal fraternity, which also included Hawkeye football legend Nile Kinnick and future Southern District of Iowa judge Bill Stuart.
According to his obituary, McManus was admitted to the Iowa Bar Association in October 1941 and briefly practiced law with his father and brother before enlisting in the U.S. Naval Air Corps in March 1942. While he was enlisted, McManus served as a flight instructor in Texas and Florida. He left the Navy as a lieutenant and returned to Keokuk to practice law with his father and brothers. There, he served as city attorney and wrote the city’s municipal code, his obituary states.
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McManus — who had five sons with his first wife, Sally Hassett; and had two stepsons through his second marriage to Esther Yothers Locher Kanealy — was elected to the Iowa Senate in 1954 and elected lieutenant governor in 1958. He unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1960.
Two years later, Kennedy appointed McManus the chief judge for the Northern District of Iowa, making him the first native-born Iowan appointed to the federal district court for the Northern District, according to his obituary. After relocating to Cedar Rapids, McManus set out to consolidate different federal court functions — which were spread throughout the district — under one roof.
“His decisions to centralize the operations of the federal court in Cedar Rapids and to implement a variety of case management reforms upon taking the bench in 1962 were truly visionary,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Sean Berry. “The changes implemented by Judge McManus left an indelible and positive impact on the efficient administration of justice for all litigants in the federal court.”
McManus was also passionate about bringing about speedy and inexpensive resolutions to his cases and prided himself in having no backlog after clearing out the initial backlog left when he took over as chief judge. He took senior status in 1985, which saw him remain a judge but with a smaller case load.
Frank describes McManus as “stern, strict and demanding; but also very thoughtful, compassionate and gracious.” She said he laid out expectations not only to his staff, but to attorneys.
“It was a delight to work for him because I always knew where I stood,” Frank said.
Despite his businesslike demeanor, McManus had a good sense of humor, his son David, recalls.
“He liked a good joke,” David McManus said. “He liked to go to parties. He liked to talk to people.”
According to his obituary, McManus was the third longest-serving federal district trial judge in the history of the United States. Frank said that was part of what drove him.
“I know he loved to work,” she said. “He loved what he was doing. I think it’s just the whole idea of coming to the office every day and doing what needed to be done.”
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A public visitation is scheduled from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Cedar Memorial Park Funeral Home, 4200 First Ave. NE in Cedar Rapids and a funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 2310 First Ave. NE in Cedar Rapids.
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