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Manley was leader in city hall, statehouse

The Demopolis and West Alabama area lost a longtime advocate and community leader with the passing of Richard “Rick” Manley on Saturday, Jan. 5.

Manley, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served during the Korean Conflict, established the law firm of Manley, Traeger, Perry, Stapp and Compton in Demopolis, and was elected multiple times to represent the area in the both the Alabama Senate and Alabama House of Representatives. He also served as the chairman of the Demopolis City School Board and was the Demopolis City Attorney.

Richard “Rick” Manley Sr. passed away on Jan. 5.

Manley was born in Birmingham and was adopted by Dr. Richard S. Manley and his wife, Alice Hughes Manley of Epes, Alabama where he attended a one-room schoolhouse. At the age of 6, Manley’s father passed away and, a few years later, he and his mother moved to California for one year. While attending school there he was double promoted to the sixth grade. Upon returning to Alabama, he became a multi-sport athlete at Livingston High School and graduated at the age of 16. Manley served in the Marine Corps and would continue his service for more than 25 years, retiring as a colonel with the Marine Corps Reserve. He attended the University of Alabama where he was a baseball player and cheerleader while earning a degree in business. He went on to study law at Alabama and was admitted to practice law in 1958.

That same year, Manley opened his first law practice on the second floor of the former Commercial National Bank building in Demopolis. Not wanting his clients to have to climb the long flight of stairs to his office, he and Dr. David Mellown purchased property on S. Walnut Avenue and a joint office was built with Manley working in one area and Mellown operating in the other. With time, Manley purchased an adjoining property and built the office where the law firm is today.

Demopolis attorney Tom Perry, a partner with Manley’s firm, credits the founder for helping him early in his career.

“He gave us all opportunities and was so kind to us. He was a wonderful man,” Perry said.

Other attorneys appreciated Manley’s passion and friendship.

“As lawyers competing against one another, we had agreed to disagree agreeably. With Rick, disagreements were forgotten immediately. He was a very good person and a friend,” said Tom Boggs, an attorney with the Lloyd, Dinning and Boggs Law Firm.

After establishing his law firm, Manley went into politics, winning a 1966 election to serve the area in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served in the House until 1983, but returned to Montgomery in 1986 upon winning a seat in the State Senate.

During his time in Montgomery, Manley pushed for the expansion to four lanes of U.S. Hwy 80. “He pushed very hard for that. Even when he was no longer in Montgomery they would call him to let him know they were going to (expand) 10 more miles. He was very determined to get that done,” Perry said.

Those who worked alongside Manley in Montgomery describe him as a mentor and someone who could be counted on to maintain his position.

Former Speaker of the House Seth Hammett was among a group of 27 who, in 1983, voted for Manley to be the next Speaker. That bid fell short as then-governor George Wallace influenced others to support Tom Drake, according to Hammett.

“(Manley) was Speaker Pro Tem in 1979, my first year in the Legislature. He was a great mentor to me and was very helpful in explaining how things worked and was someone you could go to who knew the legislation inside and out,” Hammett said.

He added that Manley had a special talent in speaking. “He was the best impromptu speaker … regardless of the topic, he could speak about it and convince people that he was right. He was the best I ever saw at that,” he said.

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby served with Manley in the State Legislature prior to his election to the U.S. Senate.

“Rick and I met during our time at the University of Alabama and later served together in the Alabama Legislature,” Shelby said. “I fondly remember the years we spent working alongside each other to advance policies that would promote a better Alabama.  He will be missed, and his steadfast service to our state and nation will be honored and celebrated for years to come.  Annette and I offer our sincere condolences to his family during this time.”

Along with his dedication in state government, Manley was equally determined in his commitments at a local level. He served on the Demopolis City Board of Education from 1967 until 1972 and was the chairman of that board in 1970 when, in the summer of that year, the system was ordered to integrate local schools. Prior to full integration, the system had established a Freedom of Choice Plan, which allowed parents to choose which school their children would attend, according to DCSS documents.

Many credit Manley’s leadership at that time as a reason for the system’s success over the years.

“If you look at our schools today, and wonder why we do better than some others, it is due in large part to his leadership. He was instrumental in helping our school system avoid white flight,” Perry said.

Manley’s service and dedication will long be remembered by those who knew him and his legacy as a public servant is an inspiration to many. In 2004, Manley was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce.

“He never asked for attention, but he quietly did more for Demopolis than anyone I know. He was one of those people that, when he walked in a room, you knew he was there. He had the ability to take over a room without saying anything. Working for him was a dream come true for me,” Perry said.

“Rick was so active in all aspects of the community,” said former Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson. “He served as the city attorney for a very long time, and was very much dedicated to Demopolis and the entire area. He did more than most of us will ever realize. He was one of the finest men I’ve ever known.”

Manley retired from law practice in 2011 due to health reasons, but his contributions to the West Alabama area remain.

“Rick was a common voice throughout his tenure with the city and the state. We are all better for having him as part of our community,” said John Northcutt, former president of Robertson Bank.

In addition to over 50 years of practicing law and more than 25 years in politics, Manley was a 20-year member of the Alabama State Bar’s Board of Bar Commissioners from the 17th Circuit and served as the chair of one of its disciplinary panels for much of that time. He was an active member of the Demopolis Jaycees and Rotary clubs and served in leadership roles at First United Methodist Church of Demopolis. He served as chairman of both the House and Senate Judiciary committees during his time in elected office and was also elected Speaker Pro Tem of the House. In addition, he held leadership roles within the Alabama Law Institute and was an original member of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Board.

A memorial service for Manley will be held Saturday, Jan. 12, beginning at 11 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church.

Editor’s Notes: This story was updated on Friday, Jan. 11, to include comments from former Alabama Speaker of the House Seth Hammett and U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

This story was updated on Thursday, Jan. 10, to include additional information about Manley’s time as chairman of the Demopolis City Board of Education, as well as comments from former Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson and former Robertson Bank President John Northcutt. The Demopolis Times will be updating this story over the coming days.