George W. McManus, Jr. legacy fulfills lifelong promise to give back

November 05, 2013

George McManus Jr.

George McManus Jr. was a famed local lawyer and BCF donor. When he passed away at age 92 in 2013, his legacy lived on – here at BCF and at the many Baltimore institutions he loved – thanks to his generosity during his lifetime. 

“Money is a means to an end,” George told BCF during an interview shortly before his death. “If you are blessed with more than you need, then you should share it with your fellow men.”  

It was a long journey for George. It took a lot of work and dogged determination to find the success he would realize later in life.  

“I grew up very, very poor,” he said.

George’s mother died of a heart attack when he was just six. The eldest of four boys, George took over the household chores in the family’s Hamilton home – cooking the meals, stoking the coal fire. 

When school was out in the summer and over the holidays, George’s father, a refrigerator salesman, would take the boys along with him when he went to work. Once they’d arrive in the neighborhood where he’d be selling that day, George Sr. would drop the boys off at the local Catholic church. 

“Churches were always open in those days.” said George. “It was the safest place he could put us.” 

It was one of the first instances of the Catholic church’s care of George. And it wouldn’t be the last. 

He’d attend Catholic schools from first grade through college -- St. Dominic’s, Calvert Hall, then Loyola College – entirely tuition free. 

“I promised the Lord that if I ever had money I’d help people like people helped me,” he said. 

When George graduated from college in 1941 he joined the Navy. He served in the South Pacific during World War II, tapped to be treasurer of American Samoa. He had the authority to issue checks against the U.S. Treasury on his own signature. He settled claims by the islands against the Navy. He proved his financial literacy and mediation skills, which would serve him well in his future career: Law.

At Harvard Law School, George excelled. Though intimidated by Ivy League insider classmates, “I soon found in the classroom and in campus bull sessions, one’s credentials mattered little,” said George. “I could think, speak, and argue with the best of them.”

He still wasn’t rich, though, and graduated to find a tough job market back in Baltimore. In 1948, many of the city’s larger law firms would not hire Catholics. But a Jewish firm would: George was hired on at Blades and Rosenfeld. It was no surprise to his Jewish Harvard friends, who often told him he was “a gentile with a Yiddishe kopf.” 

The office manager at Blades and Rosenfeld, Margaret Thron, would stay after-hours to ensure their new hire learned the ropes. The two soon fell in love and planned to marry. “I didn’t have the money, so she had to pay for the license,” said George. “We later joked that she made a helluva good investment.”

George’s legal career turned out to be an impressive one. He was offered a partnership at Blades and Rosenfeld after only one year, which he turned down to open his own practice. He’d go on to argue many precedent-setting cases, and earn a reputation for winning in difficult circumstances. 

His proudest moments in the courtroom, though, came when he helped the “little guy beat the big guy.”

A proud moment outside the courtroom came when he met His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, while representing the Jesuit Order in Rome – a great honor for anyone, let alone a committed, ever-thankful Catholic like George. 

George kept not only his Catholic values, but also the promise he made before ever enjoying such wealth and fortune.

“As a lawyer, I knew what foundations could do,” he said. “And I had promised to help others as I was helped.”

He started his own private foundation early in his career, and was one of he first people in Baltimore to do so. At age 92, he began thinking about a succession plan for his foundation – how to be sure its funds could make a lasting impression in the Baltimore region. He consulted with his financial advisor, George Cox, now of Gross Mendelsohn & Associates, who recommended shaping McManus’ estate to include a charitable fund at the Baltimore Community Foundation. 

The rest, as they say, is history. 

The George W. McManus Jr. Foundation Fund at BCF will receive a significant lump sum plus annual distributions from a charitable lead trust for an approximate total of $8.5 million. Eighty percent of the balance of the fund will be designated to nine Baltimore organizations with the remaining 20% advised by his children and grandchildren. Those nine organizations are: 

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore
Calvert Hall High School
Loyola University of Maryland
Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland 
Saints Philip & James Roman Catholic Church
Harvard Law School
Marian House 
McDonogh School
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

George McManus may be gone, but the endowed George W. McManus Jr. Foundation Fund will live on forever at BCF, making annual distributions in perpetuity.  

Read George McManus’ obituary in the Baltimore Sun

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