Former judge Manuel Barbosa remembered as a Renaissance man
"Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
Originally the words of famed baseball player Lou Gehrig, they are also the words that the late Manuel "Manny" Barbosa, a former federal judge, wanted his family and friends to hear at his funeral Tuesday in Elgin.
The words describe how Barbosa felt about his life, said Gerald Hoffman, his friend of 55 years, during the funeral at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Elgin. Barbosa, a longtime Elgin resident, died at age 72 on Nov. 25 after a short battle against pancreatic cancer.
Barbosa's accomplishments included being the first Latino bankruptcy judge to serve in the U.S. Northern District of Illinois and serving as the first chairman of the Illinois Human Rights Commission.
Two days after his death, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said on Twitter: "Manuel Barbosa devoted his life to public service. From the federal bench to the state's human rights commission to countless community groups, he spent every day fighting for what's right and making our society fairer and more equitable."
Barbosa met all manner of well-known public figures throughout his successful law career but treated all people with the same consideration, no matter their title or position. "He cared about what you said and respected your opinion," Hoffman said.
Barbosa was a true Renaissance man -- a sought-after public speaker interested in history, politics, the law and debate, Hoffman said. He had a passion for music and trivia and was an eternal optimist regarding the Cubs and the Blackhawks, Hoffman said.
Born in Mexico, Barbosa came to the United States when he was just 2 months old with his family to live on a cotton farm near the Texas border. He came to Elgin when he was 10 and attended St. Edward High School in Elgin, the former St. Procopius College -- now Benedictine University -- and The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
After his retirement Barbosa wrote and published an autobiographical book, "The Littlest Wetback: From Undocumented Child to U.S. Federal Judge." He'd also written a play about a fictional conversation between U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Mexican President Benito Juarez.
He was devoted to his family, particularly his wife of 45 years, Linda, and their three children and eight grandchildren, the Rev. Jesus Dominguez said.
"The longer you knew him, the more you realized how remarkable of a man he was," Dominguez said.
Keith Brown, the former chief judge for Kane County, said he met Barbosa through the Republican Party, and then Barbosa gave him a job at the law firm Miller, Feda and Barbosa in Elgin. Barbosa was so dedicated to his clients that the law office would be filled with them, especially Spanish speakers, even on Friday nights, Brown recalled.
"He made a difference in this world and our community," Brown said, "and for everyone who knew him."