From The Sacramento Bee, January 7, 2000:
Federal Judge Thomas J. MacBride Dies
Steve Gibson and Denny Walsh
Bee Staff Writers
Thomas J. MacBride, a renowned federal judge and impish Irishman who championed building the American River bicycle trail and the Sacramento Community Center, died Thursday of pneumonia at 85.
As a member of the state Assembly, he was a key player in Democratic Party politics, chairing the Sacramento County presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson in 1956 and of John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Kennedy appointed him a U.S. District Court judge in 1961. He later became chief judge of the 34-county Eastern District of California, then transferred to senior status—a form of semi-retirement—in 1979.
He presided over some of the most important legal issues to come before the federal courts in California during the last half of the 20th century. Not often reversed, he was one of those rare trial judges who was unruffled by the prospect.
"It saddens me to think that Tom MacBride is no longer with us," said Chief U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb.
Chief Judge Emeritus Lawrence K. Karlton said, "He was a judge who always did what the law required him to do, regardless of how he felt about it. That is the highest accolade one can pay any judge. Besides that, let me tell you he was a wonderful guy."
Senior Judge Milton L. Schwartz also had kind words for his colleague: "He is among a very select few of my generation that leaves such a heavy imprint on his beloved community and state."
Judge MacBride was perhaps most widely known for presiding over the dramatic trial of Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson who was convicted of attempting to kill President Ford in Capitol Park in 1975.
Sentencing Fromme to life without possibility of parole, he said: "Had John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy or Martin Luther King been allowed to live out their lives rather than having fallen at the hands of a person like yourself, they could have accomplished more for our environment and for all mankind than all the terrorists in the history of the world, you and Charles Manson included."
He was a native of Sacramento whose parents owned a candy factory. Their three sons all achieved local prominence. The late Kirt MacBride was a Sacramento Union columnist for decades. Frank MacBride is still selling real estate.
Thomas MacBride graduated from Sacramento High School in 1932, then worked his way through the University of California, Berkeley. After graduating from Boalt Hall School of Law, he went to work as a deputy state attorney general for Earl Warren, beginning a long relationship with the future governor and U.S. chief justice.
During World War II, he was a Navy intelligence officer, working for Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific.
An athletic, wiry man with an engaging smile and a warm personality, Judge MacBride was an avid bicyclist, which led to his efforts in the 1960s to push for development of the bicycle trail.
In the Assembly, where he served from 1955 until 1960, he carried several tax bills for Gov. Pat Brown that helped wipe out a $68 million deficit.
He explained later that he was expected to introduce the governor's tax package because he headed the Assembly's Revenue and Taxation Committee, not because he favored a liberal program.
"I consider myself a moderate, conservative Democrat," he said.
His former secretary Joyce Del Pero recalled that Judge MacBride "had the fastest mind I ever saw . . . (and) a very, sort of devilish sense of humor. He didn't seem at all as impressed as I thought he should be with his accomplishments."
Around the federal courthouse, then at Seventh Street and Capitol Mall, he was valued as a raconteur, whose delivery was so mesmerizing he could tell the same story over and over without boring his audience.
Every evening, on his way out, he would come into the press room and ask about the day's events in the building. He loved to talk about hunting, the outdoors generally and his garden. He sometimes brought his Labrador retriever to the courthouse, where she preceded him by several steps wherever he went—except to the bench.
"It is difficult for me to contemplate the fact of his death," Schwartz said. "My memories of him not only extend over a span of 65 years, but are crowded with the things he accomplished with such apparent ease."
In addition to his brother, Judge MacBride is survived by his wife of 52 years, Martha Harrold MacBride of Sacramento; sons Thomas Jr. of Piedmont, Peter of Chicago and David of Sacramento; a daughter, Laurie MacBride of Seattle; and two grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 15 in Trinity Cathedral, 2620 Capitol Ave.