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Magdich revered on and off the bench

Former 15th Circuit judge dies at 74

Tomas Magdich
Tomas Magdich

DIXON – Friends and family remember Tomas Magdich for his wit, dry sense of humor, and, of course, his speeches.

Magdich, who served for 18 years as a judge in the 15th Judicial Circuit, died Tuesday. He was 74.

Magdich was born in Gary, Ind., on July 2, 1939.

His mother was a bookkeeper, and his father a carpenter. The hardworking and passionate nature Magdich was known for seems to have been instilled in him from a young age. He was just 13 when his father died, so Magdich worked as a newspaper delivery boy to help contribute to his family’s grocery money, according to his obituary, which is published on page A4 of today’s edition.

After graduating from high school in Gary, Magdich attended Ripon College in Wisconsin, where he met his future wife, Judy, and majored in philosophy – an interest he kept throughout his life.

Bob Thompson, Lee County public defender and a longtime family friend, remembers sitting around the Magdiches’ kitchen table, staying up and debating philosophy and politics late into the night.

“It was about exhanging ideas in a humorous and fun way,” Magdich’s son, Michael, said of the late-night talks. “He was always a student and very curious.”

“He was a lover of philosophy and he loved politics, and to talk about both would happen on a daily basis,” Thompson said. “He’d always give you your chance to chime in, but by the time you ended the conversation you were usually on his side.”

After graduating from Ripon, Magdich attended Northwestern Law School, and during his first year, he and his wife Judy were married.

A job opportunity in Dixon with the firm Gunner and Keller is what brought the young family to Dixon, where he lived and worked as a private attorney and city attorney before being appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court as a 15th Circuit Court judge in 1985. The circuit includes Lee, Ogle, Carroll, Stephenson and Jo Daviess counties.

“He was beloved,” Thompson said. “There’s no question about it.”

His sense of humor, too, was unique.

“He had a really dry sense of humor that would always put people at ease,” Lee County Judge Ron Jacobson said.

That same sense of humor carried over into his speeches, which Magdich was well known for making at various events throughout northern Illinois.

Thompson and Magdich’s children, Michael, Amy, and Marjorie, talked about two speeches in particular.

One of them, his children explained, started with a few jokes about how the Lee County Courthouse was designed by a company that made shopping malls, and then Murphy’s Law struck, and somehow he ended up working in it for nearly 20 years.

“The style – you just can’t describe the style, because it was so unique,” Thompson said. “But it was a style that would immediately capture you, and you couldn’t help but pay rapt attention to what he was saying. I wish I had that gift.”

Another speech Magdich is well-known for was one called “The DCFS Investigation of Santa Claus,” which he delivered at a Bar Association dinner, Thompson said.

Jacobson remembers arguing cases in front of Magdich as a young lawyer, and called him a very well-respected and intelligent man.

“He would always be very thoughtful when he made his decisions,” Jacobson said. “He took his job very seriously and always kept in mind the concerns of all the parties involved. He was always a very accessible judge, too. You could always go up and talk to him and his opinion about issues, and he always enjoyed talking to lawyers in the community. He cared very much about the legal system and helping young lawyers become better lawyers, and he was always willing to help.

“Judge Magdich will not be missed just by Lee County,” Jacobson said. “He had an impact on all of us in the circuit – all five counties in the circuit. He will be missed by all of us.”

After his retirement in 2003, Magdich spent time teaching classes at Northern Illinois University.

In his home life, as his children mentioned, Magdich threw himself into everything he did and had a real passion for learning, for fun, and for life.

His children talked about how, while they were little, he would play the guitar and sing songs, and the whole family would sing along.

Magdich loved traveling, and did so frequently with his family. He also loved gardening. Jacobson talked about one conversation in particular the two of them had when he mentioned off-handedly that he was getting ready to plant roses in his yard, which sparked a 20-minute conversation with Magdich about everything from planting tips to caring for roses.

“Everything he did, he just did so intensely,” his children said. “The way he was at work – so good at that – he was like that with everything. He so totally loved gardening, and would come in at the end of a Saturday dirty from head to toe. He just threw himself in to so much.”

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