Judge Macgill's life recalled as poetry Scholar, gentleman renowned in law

July 14, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Although Circuit Judge James Macgill may not have fulfilled his high school and college dream of becoming a poet, his life itself was poetry, friends said yesterday at his memorial service in Columbia.

The chief judge of Maryland's 5th Circuit Court from 1954 to 1980, Judge Macgill died of cancer at age 80 June 27 at his Mount Airy home.

Yesterday at the Oakland Mills Interfaith center, about 300 lawyers, judges, artists and family members celebrated his life with humorous anecdotes and fond reminiscences.

Attorney A. Gallatin Warfield III set the tone for the hour-long tribute by quoting from Judge Macgill's words at Mr. Warfield's father's funeral 10 years ago. "I will not mourn him; I honor him," Mr. Warfield said.

"He was my dad's best friend," Mr. Warfield said. They were roommates at Donaldson School in Ilchester -- now Trinity Preparatory School. While there, Judge Macgill was "picked on by a bully, but refused to retaliate," Mr. Warfield said, not out of fear but because of his peaceful nature.

During the summer, however, Judge Macgill took a Charles Atlas course and built up his strength, Mr. Warfield said. There were several bronze busts at the school and when the bully approached him again in the fall, Judge Macgill picked up the bust and held it at arm's length. The bully never bothered him again, Mr. Warfield said. "He got the message."

It was the same peaceful strength that led him to join the American Field Service prior to Pearl Harbor and become a volunteer ambulance driver with the British army in Syria, Libya, India and Burma.

Later, as a jurist, he "earned a level of respect that placed him in a select group of Maryland's premier judges," said Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence F. Rodowsky.

Judge Macgill was always selected to handle the most difficult cases, Judge Rodowsky said, and was renowned for his knowledge, experience, civility and judicial temperament.

Judge Rodowsky told of several instances where Judge Macgill was asked to take cases elsewhere, including one in Baltimore that was so complicated and so delicate that Judge Macgill was asked to come out of retirement to preside over it.

"He was a consummate gentleman -- a scholar, the best trial judge I ever served before," said James K. Eagan III, president of the Howard County Bar Association. "When you practiced before Judge Macgill, you knew he was prepared so you had to be extra prepared," Mr. Eagan said.

"What he did in sculpture, equals what he did as a judge," said famed sculptor Reuben Kramer, who was Judge Macgill's teacher.

James Macgill Jr., noting his father's dry humor, told a story he said his father would want told:

"It was a long, hot afternoon, and he began to doodle -- he didn't just take notes during a trial. After a while, one of the attorneys said, 'Your honor, I object,' and Jamie said, 'On what grounds.'

" 'There was no particular basis, your honor, I just wanted you to know that we're still here.' "

Sara Macgill Agre, Judge Macgill's granddaughter, read a poem the judge had written at age 21.

Then Sally Keene Craig, his step-daughter, read a piece he had written entitled, "Words for my Funeral."

"As a tree is made beautiful leaf by leaf; as a tree is diminished leaf by leaf, so is the effect of each life on all things," he wrote. "In others lies the judgment of myself, a judgment that is never final. I pray that I have done more good than evil and that in this interval of time called life, I have increased and not diminished the sum of God."

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