By Robert Tomlinson
THREE RIVERS — In the last 50 years, commissioners, city managers and many more city staffers have come and gone from Three Rivers, but one person had remained consistent through it all.
City Attorney J. Patrick O’Malley, who has served the city in his role for 48 years and will be retiring at the end of 2022, was honored Tuesday, Dec. 20 with a special reception and a ceremony prior to the night’s city commission meeting at the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce.
O’Malley, hired in as city attorney on Jan. 7, 1974, has served in the role for longer than any other city attorney in the history of Three Rivers, and has guided the city through a number of legal cases during his time. According to a framed poster set up at the ceremony, he has had a hand in writing 2,507 resolutions for the city in his tenure.
Outside of his work with the city, O’Malley’s private law practice, with offices at the corner of Portage Avenue and Hoffman Road, specializes in real estate, laws of incorporation, and other areas of corporate law.
To replace O’Malley in the position, the city hired T.J. Reed of Sturgis’ Bird, Scheske, Reed & Beemer, P.C. law firm back in mid-November. He had been the city’s assistant attorney since May.
A large number of people attended both O’Malley’s reception and the ceremony during the city commission, in which the longtime city attorney received a framed proclamation recognizing his decades of service.
“J. Patrick O’Malley’s outstanding commitment to the city and the community has only been surpassed by his integrity, his professionalism and his work ethic,” Mayor Tom Lowry said, reading from the proclamation. “He has counseled city leadership with grace and calm during periods of change and challenge in Three Rivers, and has been the trusted advisor to numerous Three Rivers city managers and city commissioners. He has worked closely with the city commission and staff from all departments to address a wide range of issues, such as land use, elections, conflicts of interest, public financing, litigation and so much more.”
A number of O’Malley’s friends and former colleagues spoke about his character and career during the half-hour-long ceremony. District Court Judge Jeffrey Middleton, representing the county’s Bar Association, said he was hired back in 1979 to do legal work for O’Malley, recalling an incident where the city sold the same cemetery plot to two different families. He said he considered going to work for O’Malley’s firm, but ultimately decided not to pursue it, to which he said O’Malley told him a few months ago he “made a good choice.”
As O’Malley is the current dean of the county Bar Association, Middleton said he wanted to honor him, and did so by donating on behalf of O’Malley and former Assistant City Attorney John Barnes to the Three Rivers Food Site.
Bill Welty, who worked at O’Malley’s law office for 16 years before becoming a District Court judge in 1990, said O’Malley took a chance on him fresh out of law school as a “young know-nothing,” and said he appreciated his guidance through the years.
“When you graduate law school, you don’t really know how to do anything other than think through a problem, so everything I learned about how to practice law I learned from Pat,” Welty said. “I was always amazed at the kindness and compassion he showed to somebody who was there because they had a problem. He was so calming and reassuring to everybody, and I took that to heart and tried to model my career after him. … Everything I’ve ever done, I think about Pat and his kindness, the huge heart he has, and how he loves people. I want to thank you for all you’ve done.”
Barnes, the former assistant city attorney, said he appreciated the “wisdom and calm” O’Malley brought to the job every day.
“Handling people’s legal problems is not easy. There’s usually a problem that they can’t figure out themselves they have to get an attorney for, and that process itself isn’t exactly a calm process,” Barnes said. “You always kept your cool, and were often at times trying to allay my energetic excitement on trying to attack a problem and getting me to slow down and think it through, and I appreciate that approach. I always think of you as my mentor.”
City Manager Joe Bippus said in a brief comment it would’ve been “impossible to succeed” in his current role without the guidance of O’Malley. Lowry commented that he has worked with a lot of good people in his tenure of mayor, and that one of the best parts was having O’Malley around.
“The best tutors are the ones who could take a discussion and not necessarily arrive at the answer they thought was correct, but make everybody think and redirect you. Pat has so many times in my experience been able to take a hot issue, or a could-be controversial issue, or even just a complicated issue, you said the right words that got everybody back on the same point,” Lowry said. “You did that with calm. You rarely raised your voice. He did it with an extreme calm and grace, and it redirected us and got us through that moment, which could have been contentious or difficult. I thank Pat for that wisdom and being able to do that.”
To close out the ceremony, O’Malley himself spoke about his career, different tales from his time as an attorney, and about the relationship the city has with the townships. He said he would “truly miss” the community when he retires.
“I recently listened to a speaker about gratitude, and how important gratitude is to all of us. We don’t realize how lucky we are – and those of you who live in this area, you don’t realize the environment around here. I’ve often said, what community would not be envious of a city that has three rivers, water, trails, the things you have in this community? It’s amazing,” O’Malley said.
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.