“He was a legendary figure,” Johnson County Commissioner Larry Woolley said Monday upon learning of the passing of former Cleburne attorney and judge John R. MacLean Jr.
Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon agreed.
“Boy I’m going to miss old John,” Harmon said. “He was one of the premiere guys of our county and I’m going to miss him. There was never any tunnel vision with John. He was a gentleman and a fair man who always looked at the big picture and treated everyone equally. It’s men of character like John who have built this community into what it is.”
Others spoke of MacLean’s integrity, fairness and connection to the common man.
MacLean, 82, passed away Sunday in his Fort Worth home after suffering Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.
Born in Pueblo, Colorado, MacLean was captain of his high school’s football team. Following graduation, he received an appointment to the United State Military Academy at West Point after which he served in the Army stationed in Germany. After his service, MacLean matriculated to Vanderbilt Law School where he served as Vanderbilt Bar Association president.
MacLean moved to Cleburne after graduation from law school to begin a practice with his father-in-law Gean Turner, who subsequently suggested that MacLean should seek public office.
MacLean went on to serve as Johnson County’s county attorney from 1969 through 1976 and district attorney from 1977 to 1984 before being appointed by then Gov. Mark White to serve as judge of the 249th District Court.
MacLean was board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in criminal law and personal injury law and at that time was one of only six Texas judges to be board certified in two specialities.
MacLean served in public office for 24 years after which he returned to private practice opening a Cleburne law office with fellow attorney and friend Dan Boulware, a successful practice that continued until Boulware’s death in 2016.
In addition to his public and private practice duties, MacLean served as chairman of Johnson County United Way and in various capacities at Cleburne’s United Methodist Church. A pilot and avid outdoorsman, MacLean, on his 60th birthday, learned to snowboard in order to surprise his children. He and his wife, Carol Jean MacLean, were married for 58 years.
“John was a great lawyer, great brother-in-law,” Cleburne attorney Dick Turner said. “My dad loved him and, after they practiced law together for awhile, encouraged him to get into public office. We lived close together and talked all the time. John was one of those guys who had all the answers and you could always go to. Mainly I’ll remember all the great Christmases and Thanksgivings we all had as a family.”
Current Johnson County Attorney Bill Moore echoed Wolley and Harmon’s sentiments in remembering MacLean.
“John was a true gentleman and a legal scholar,” Moore said. “You always knew he was going to be fair in his decisions as district judge and respected his rulings. Judge MacLean impacted the lives of many people and the citizens of Johnson County truly benefitted from his public service. He will be missed.”
Johnson County District Attorney Dale Hanna agreed.
“He and I tried many cases together,” Hanna said. “John was a great lawyer and an even better person. I don’t know of anyone who influenced my career and life as he did and you’ll hear a lot of people say that. John had the utmost respect for everybody, just one of the finest people you’ll ever know.”
Former Sheriff Bob Alford said he began working the Johnson County area as a Texas Department of Public Safety agent when MacLean was district attorney.
“Dale Hanna was county attorney by then and Dan Boulware was assistant DA,” Alford said. “I’d take cases to them and always got a kick out of hearing John saying, ‘Well Danny boy, I believe he’s got it.’ That was his standard line when you in a case that had evidence to support going forward. We tried one of the first organized crime cases in this area.”
More than that, Alford said, MacLean was a man of character.
“Well, he was my personal attorney,” Alford said. “John was definitely a Christian and lived his life from a Christian perspective. Everyone was equal and everyone got a fair shot in his eyes. Always had a smile, always upbeat with a kind word for everybody. Certainly one of the pillars of our community and he served our county well.”
413th District Judge Bill Bosworth recalled attending youth group meetings at MacLean’s house during Bosworth’s middle and high school days.
“I started mowing his lawn when I was in seventh grade,” Bosworth said. “Once, when I was home from college, he saw me at a stop light by the courthouse and called me inside. He told me some things going on in a current court trial and explained the procedure of a court case and exposed me to the law, which I found pretty fascinating.”
That, Bosworth said, was MacLean’s way.
“He always took time to talk with, not to, people,” Bosworth said. “With him it wasn’t just a cursory stop, but taking time to really talk and listen to others. That man truly did not believe in having a bad day and every single person in that courthouse or out on the street was the same to him.”
Current 249th District Judge Wayne Bridewell ran for the district judge seat after MacLean decided not to seek reelection.
“I’ve known John for many years,” Bridewell said. “He was county attorney when I came on as an assistant prosecutor in 1974. It was an honor to have worked for John. He was a man of high integrity as a judge and attorney who was highly respected by many throughout Texas as well as a very beloved public official in Johnson County and friend to many.”
Harmon remembers MacLean as a friend and a mentor.
“When I was a new county judge I frequently turned to John knowing that he knew the ins and outs of the county,” Harmon said. “He always exhibited integrity and helped with any questions I had, and he always steered me straight. I’m going to miss him. We need more people like him today in our county and country.”
In lieu of flowers, family members suggest donations to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, North Texas Food Bank or the Pastor’s Emergency Fund of First United Methodist Church of Cleburne.
In light of COVID-19, family members will hold a private grave side service at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery officiated by Dr. Keith Whitworth, with Rosser Funeral Home of Cleburne providing funeral services.