DIXON – The Honorable Tomas M. Magdich of Dixon died Tuesday, April 15, 2014. He was 74.
He was born July 2, 1939, in Gary, Ind., to a bookkeeper, Ann Magdich, and a carpenter, Milan Magdich. His working-class childhood was made difficult by the death of his father at the age of 13. He was raised by a hardworking, single mother in the 1950s, and delivered papers to contribute to the family’s grocery money. Although his life was difficult, from early on, he always had a passion for school and learning.
Tom graduated from Lew Wallace High School in 1957 in Gary, and then attended Ripon College. At Ripon College, he met his future spouse, Judith Lawson. He became president of his fraternity, where he developed many lifelong friendships. And it was at Ripon College where he was mentored to seek a career in law after graduating with a degree in philosophy.
While attending Northwestern Law School, he discovered his passion for the law and his lifelong mission to help people seek justice. During his first year, he married Judith Lawson on Aug. 11, 1962. During his last year of law school, he found himself in need of employment due to the impending birth of their first child. A job opportunity with the firm Gunner and Keller is how he came to Dixon 50 years ago, a place that he thought would be a temporary home but grew to endear.
Tom often told the story of how, as a young associate, he was given the cases that nobody else wanted or weren’t expected to win. With his passion for justice, he embraced those challenges, and after years of success, he became a named partner on July 1, 1971. While practicing law as an attorney, he argued landmark cases, but also had time to help with even minor disputes, because he held the deep belief that all people deserve representation. He knew justice was found in the big and small matters of life. He took his own dispute over parking tickets to court, and prevailed when the city parking meter ordinance was found unconstitutional.
On March 1, 1985, he was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court as a Circuit Court Judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit. He was elected to the full term in 1986, and was retained in 1992 and 1998. In 1992, he received a 100 percent approval rating from the Illinois State Bar Association. He served 18 years on the bench before his retirement in December 2003. He loved the courtroom both as an attorney and as a judge. He was known to say that the courtroom offered the best show in town.
In addition to being dedicated to the law and his career, Tom was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He loved always learning new things and traveling. He and Judy instilled those interests in their children and grandchildren. Always being a student of life made him an excellent teacher to his children, to his colleagues, and eventually to university students at Northern Illinois Law School.
The family could often find Tom around the house gardening and woodworking like his father. In the community, he was known for being an entertaining public speaker and humorist. Tom is remembered for his quick wit, sincere compassion, his unique perspective on life, his storytelling, and his love of his family.
He is survived by his wife, Judith Lawson; his children, Amy Jo (Alan) Clemens of Dixon, Michael (Karen) Magdich of Dexter, Mich., and Marjorie (Ken) Erdmann of Tulsa, Okla.; seven grandchildren, Emily, Thomas, Nicholas, Mary, Henry, Maxwell, and Alexandra; and his brother, Dennis Magdich of Chicago.
Visitation will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday at Jones Funeral Home in Dixon. The memorial service will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church in Dixon, with the Rev. David Spaulding officiating. Burial of cremains will be at a later date at Oakwood Cemetery in Dixon.
Memorial have been established to Prairie State Legal Services and First Presbyterian Church in Dixon.