It would be easy to give in to cliché when talking about Judge Arthur “Art” McGiverin. He had a remarkable legal mind and rose to the highest levels of the Iowa judiciary, serving for 13 years as the state’s chief justice.
He was brilliant. He was among the best in his field. McGiverin earned recognition statewide and nationwide. His death is a loss for Iowa.
It’s a personal loss for many in Ottumwa. Whatever else he may have been to the people of this state, no other community had the opportunity to know him as well. Ottumwans knew him as a neighbor, a fellow parishioner, a Civil War buff and a gentleman.
Often, when people reach the heights of their profession, there is a tendency to turn within. People become inaccessible to those who are outside that profession, whose work or interests are part of the broader world.
McGiverin never did that. He was always courteous and friendly, but managed to balance that personal warmth in a way that never came across as anything less than professional. He commanded respect not by demanding it, but by giving it.
We have heard people say in the days since his death that McGiverin never interrupted people or raised his voice in his courtroom. While we can’t attest to that through personal experience, we’d be surprised if he ever needed to. There are some people who can simply command a room through sheer presence, and if McGiverin was on the bench we suspect that’s what happened.
The fact he kept an office at the courthouse said much about him. Iowa’s highest-ranking judge still wanted to work out of his local courthouse, staying close to home when he could.
Lots of people knew Judge McGiverin. Fewer knew Art, the golfer and Indian Hills fan. The accounts from those people line up with those from the legal world. He was, perhaps, a bit less formal in those cases. But those stories suggest he was much the same person in terms of courtesy and warmth.
It’s rare to find people who show the world and their friends exactly the same face. And that may hold one of the keys to why McGiverin was so widely admired. He didn’t have to worry about whether he was going to slip out of character.
Iowa has lost one of the giants of its legal landscape. In his work, McGiverin helped shape Iowa law and generations of those who practice it.
Locally, we lost a neighbor, a supporter of the library. Someone who gave back to his community and had that rare ability to be so comfortable in his own skin that he made those around him comfortable in theirs.
Ottumwa has lost a friend.