Federal Judge Harry Leinenweber remembered as judge, family man, friend

Sneed on Sunday…

Harry was quite a guy.

From the courtroom to the family room to the dining room, U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber taught a one-man master class in life.

A man of reason, a man in full, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather. A golfer, a raconteur, an intellectual who loved people, a teller of tall — but true — tales.

Harry Leinenweber was also a giant of a jurist.

Recently, he presided over major federal trials — including the R. Kelly and ComEd cases — but Judge Leinenweber’s gavel fell silent forever Tuesday evening after battling lung cancer.

His wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Lynn Martin, was at his side in their Gold Coast home, his children nearby, his beloved Burmese cats “Nigel” and “Zuzu” standing sentinel bedside.

“Life smiled on us when we got him as a judge,” said U.S. District Court Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, his boss.

“Quite frankly, he was perfect,” she said.

Last Monday, Judge Leinenweber called her with a request.

“He was struggling to breathe, to communicate effectively, saying he had lived a good life and had nothing to complain about … but that he was entering hospice and wanted to make sure his law clerks weren’t left in the lurch,” said Judge Pallmeyer.

“Harry was facing death and thinking about others,” she said.

“He was an amazing man, never holding himself apart from people,” she said. “And he loved trying cases so much, he asked to help out with the caseloads of other judges,” she said.

Stated a close friend and lawyer: “You can bet every trial lawyer who practices in Chicago’s federal court is weeping tonight because Harry was the absolute best trial judge you could ever get.

“Harry was committed to making sure litigants in front of him had a fair trial, and their lawyers were treated with respect.”

‘Gipper’ gives ‘Gigi’ the gavel …

Harry was a guy to be wild about. Proud of his Joliet roots, he served as a star Republican member of the Illinois General Assembly from 1973-1983 and was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on Nov. 7, 1985, to the U.S. District court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Harry had it all. The law was his territory, his wife was his co-pilot, his family was his life.

A father of five — Thomas, Justin, Steven, Jane and John — and stepfather of two — Carrie and Julia — Harry and his wife, Lynn, were besotted with their blended family and tumble of beloved grandchildren and great grandchildren who called them “Papa” and “Gigi.”

A sign posted on the walkway entrance of their Michigan Dunes summer home said it all:

“Grandchildren are welcome. Parents by appointment only.”

A devout Catholic who attended mass at Holy Name Cathedral, Harry was always first up at 4 to 5 a.m., either swimming or reading the classics.

It was a life honorably executed … with a pinch of kickapoo joy juice on the side.

A formidable golfer, Harry loved to personally serve up his personal gin martini mix with two olives shaken into life at his mini-bar stationed near the piano at the couple’s Gold Coast apartment. Then, he’d plop in his favorite chair nearby, and hold forth on courtroom hijinx, the classics, or political lore in his stentorious basso voice.

Or he’d just wait for “Nigel” the family cat to jump in his lap.

‘A judge, but never judgmental’

In typical Harry fashion, he arrived smiling, but frail, at his 87th birthday party organized by his wife at the Union League Club on June 3, enjoying his celebratory toasts with a glass of water. He died suddenly eight days later at home.

A classic combo of intellectual and regular guy, Harry was, indeed, something else.

Did I tell you Harry made a helluva rhubarb pie and owned a vintage waffle maker?

“Lynn and Harry always had a houseful of guests or family at their Dunes home, where Harry loved fixing a good breakfast for all their guests, always up early, making bread, bacon, scrapple — and heating up warming drawers to keep food perfectly timed,” said Chris Dudley, a very close family friend.

“And they wouldn’t let anyone help clean up. They did it all … and loaded the dishwasher together,” she said.

“Harry was a judge, but never judgmental,” added Dudley. “He was comfortable talking to anyone, loved enjoying life. He and Lynn were a great team. They were unique in their own careers and own accomplishments. So proud of each other … and protective.”

‘We were all wild about Harry’

Retired federal Judge Wayne Andersen, one of Leinenweber’s closest buddies and golf partner, described his friend as an “intellectual who was so nice it would almost mask his tremendous mind. He just loved people. Strove to be fair. His house was filled with books from all phases of his life and experiences.”

“In one of his last opinions, Harry was thrilled he got to quote Shakespeare by claiming one of the parties involved in the case ‘got hoisted on his own petard!,’” he said.

Did I tell you Harry, a huge Notre Dame fan who loved tailgating at his alma mater’s games, treasured a replica of his Joliet childhood home he kept on a bedroom shelf?

“We were all wild about Harry,” said a member of his legion of friends. “His life with Lynn, who, like Harry, was also a former Republican member of the Illinois House, was a true love story.”

Lynn and Harry. What a team.

Harry Leinenweber. What a class act.


Saturday birthdays: Jim Belushi, 70; Courtney Cox, 60; Helen Hunt, 61; Ice Cube, 55, … Sunday birthdays: Laurie Metcalf, 69; John Cho, 52 … And a belated birthday to Chicago’s top social scrivener, Candace Jordan, ageless and priceless.

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