U.S. District Judge John H. Hannah Jr., Chief Justice of the Eastern District of Texas, died early this morning in Florida of an apparent heart attack. He was 64 years old. Hannah was attending a judicial conference in Miami with his wife, W.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Guthrie. His loss hit hard for those who knew him.
"I was shocked," said fellow U.S. District Judge William Steger. "He seemed to be the epitome of health. He's quite rugged, an outdoors man. I shot skeet with him in times past. He's just one you wouldn't think to have that happen so suddenly."
Judge Steger has known Judge Hannah since he came on to the scene as a U.S. Attorney in 1977.
"He's been a real delight to serve with," said Steger. "He is certainly a man of integrity and ability. He's one that will be sorely missed by the bar and the federal judiciary of the Eastern District, as well as our nation."
Tyler attorney Buck Files goes back 25 years with Judge Hannah. He's known him as a federal prosecutor, as a lawyer in private practice, as Secretary of State, and as a Federal judge.
"He was the essence of the public servant," said Files. "He went from being a blue-water sailor with the United States Navy, to Chief Judge of the Federal court here."
"Judge Hannah had a lot of advantages on the bench because he had been a defense attorney, he had been a prosecutor," said defense attorney Tonda Curry, who knew him well when she was a Federal prosecutor. "He had been on both sides of civil cases, especially civil rights cases, so he had that wide range of experience, so when you were in his court, no matter what role you were in, prosecutor or defense, he could relate to it. He had been in that role."
"The lawyers appearing in front of him respected him and responded to the velvet paws which he showed to them," added Files. "He didn't have to bear his teeth or show his fangs. The lawyers knew who was in charge."
Judge Hannah's influence extended far beyond the boundaries of the courtroom.
"He'd hold court once a week downtown," said Tom Mullins, President/CEO of Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council. "We'd get together with group of anywhere from about six to ten people, and within a moment, John would be the center of attention. Everybody just loved being around him. He was such a down to earth person, that you would forget sometimes you were talking to a federal judge."
"I think everyone feels this huge void," said Heart of Tyler's Kathey Comer, a good friend of Hannah's. "Of course, conventional wisdom says that anytime there's a vacuum it will be filled. But we can never imagine that void being filled."
Governor Rick Perry issued this statement today.
"Throughout his life, John Hannah embodied the principle of public service. His contributions as a state legislator, Secretary of State, and on the Federal bench benefited the lives of those he served in East Texas and across our state. Anita and I extend our prayers to the Hannah family."