Philanthropist and former lawyer George W. McManus Jr.
Philanthropist and former lawyer George W. McManus Jr. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

George W. McManus Jr., a retired attorney and philanthropist who gave millions to assist schools and defended the indigent through the Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland, died of congestive heart failure Sunday at his Guilford home. He was 92.

"George was a bigger-than-life character," said the Rev. William Au, a friend who is pastor of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Mount Washington. "He realized the successes he had were based upon some of the chances he was given. He lived his life realizing he would give back."


In September, Mr. McManus notified local charities that he planned to leave $8.5 million to the Baltimore Community Foundation. Officials said Monday the bequest is expected to generate about $400,000 annually.

"This amount will be distributed by the foundation in Mr. McManus' name in perpetuity," said Gigi Wirtz, a foundation official. "A portion of the annual spendable [money] will be advised by Mr. McManus' heirs and distributed to charities they select."

In establishing this fund, Mr. McManus directed that money go to The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, Calvert Hall College High School, Loyola University Maryland, the Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland, SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church in Charles Village, Harvard Law School, the Marian House in Waverly, McDonogh School in Owings Mills and the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Southeast Baltimore.

"George had a wonderful spirit and was a joy to work with," said Ralph Serpe, a foundation vice president, who lives in York, Pa. "He would be with family members when we met to plan his gift. I think of his kindness, his storytelling, his entertaining ways."

Several weeks ago Mr. McManus, in a wheelchair and in failing health, attended a two-hour board meeting at Calvert Hall.

"He was someone who felt strongly about remembering where he came from and about giving back," said Frank P. Bramble Sr., interim president of the school and a former banking executive. "His education at Calvert Hall was transformational for him. Our board room is named after him. Our baseball field is named after him."

Mr. Bramble speculated that the Christian Brothers, the founders of Calvert Hall, and other religious orders had given Mr. McManus free or minimal tuition as a student in the 1930s.

"Catholic schools in Baltimore propelled George W. McManus Jr. from poverty to success as a lawyer, he says, providing him a solid education," said a Baltimore Sun article published last month. "And years later, when the legal tables turned and he needed defense, priests and school officials were there as character witnesses."

In The Sun's recent article, Mr. McManus said he earned $50 a week in his first job, but by the late 1970s was making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at a practice he started by taking on wills, deeds and estates — "whatever came in the door."

However, in 1986 a federal grand jury indicted Mr. McManus, alleging that he evaded $546,000 in taxes.

"He was sentenced to two years in prison for using his George W. McManus Foundation to mask a tax evasion scam," The Sun's recent article said. "[Mr.] McManus has said the allegations stemmed from an honest mistake, and after prison he regained his law license and returned to philanthropy, building up the McManus foundation's funds."

Mr. McManus was born in Canton. The family moved to Hamilton and he attended St. Dominic's School. He was a graduate of Calvert Hall College High School. He went on Loyola University Maryland, where he attracted the attention of its president, the Jesuit priest Edward Bunn.

Mr. McManus credited Father Bunn's intervention with Harvard University admissions officials for helping him gain entrance. Mr. McManus graduated from Harvard Law School after his military service.

"My mother died when I was 6, and I never had any money for my tuition," he said in The Sun's interview.


He returned to Baltimore and opened a law office in the old Mathieson Building on Light Street in downtown Baltimore.

"As a boss, he was hardworking and very exacting," said retired Circuit Judge John F. Fader, who was his law clerk years ago. "One morning, to impress him, I arrived at 7 a.m. He looked up and said, 'Why are you late?' George McManus was one of the best lawyers I have ever known or seen in action."

His son, George W. McManus III, recalled his father's work habits. "If it was a case he wanted to win, he'd work 16-hour days," said his son, who lives in Towson.

Friends recalled his waving, silvery hair and his expansive speaking style. He often quoted 15 to 20 lines of Shakespeare from memory.

"He spoke passionately in a gentle way. He was authentic," said Wilhelm Joseph, the executive director of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, who worked with him closely. "He was a founding member of our Equal Justice Council, a group of lawyers who pool their time and talents to ensure that economically disadvantaged Marylanders have access to legal assistance."

Mr. Joseph said Mr. McManus was a "key player" in getting the Legal Aid building constructed at Lexington and Gay streets in downtown Baltimore.

Herbert Garten, a Baltimore attorney, said "he was a magnet in attracting people and clients. He could draft a will or work in complex litigation."

A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church, 2801 N. Charles St., where he was a member.

In addition to his son, survivors include three daughters, Mary Claire McManus Boney of Atlanta, and Margaret McManus Moag and Patricia McManus Kauffman, both of Baltimore; his companion of many years, Ann Miller; a brother, Michael Francis McManus of Baltimore; a sister, Mary Beth Jacquette of Stevensville; 11 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His wife of 38 years, the former Margaret Ann Thron, died in 1989.