The Passing of John Manfreda of the TTB: a Tragedy for his family and a Tragedy for the Industry he so Faithfully Served for so Long.

The Passing of John Manfreda of the TTB: a Tragedy for his family and a Tragedy for the Industry he so Faithfully Served for so Long.

May 28, 2019

Note from John Hinman: All of us here at Hinman & Carmichael LLP join with our colleagues across the United States in mourning the passing of John Manfreda, the long-time Administrator of the TTB, and former Chief Counsel of the BATF (the predecessor agency to TTB). John, 73, died of a sudden heart attack on May 25, 2019.  John’s legacy at TTB is well explained in Rob Tobiassen’s post below. For my part I have known John for over 20 years. He was gracious and open in his dealings with the entire industry and was always available to all of us.  As Rob laments, he will be missed.

We are All the Lesser

By Robert M. Tobiassen 

“Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom.”  Edmund Burke 1720-1797

John Joseph Manfreda was a gracious gentleman, wise mentor, fierce and yet fair challenger, and a truly magnanimous person.  He will be missed.

There are so many stories to tell about John it is hard to know where to start.

He was proud that he was a native of the DC metropolitan area. If my memory has not failed. I believe that he first saw Rosemary when he was working part-time in the butcher section of a grocery store and she walked by and he cut himself on the meat cutter.  He knew that she was the woman to be his wife.   

John understood work-life balance before it was trendy.  His coaching of local basketball teams and his devotion to family were always there.  His handyman skills helped to renovate houses for family members and he would wait for Rosemary to leave the house before he did crazy work like taking down really tall trees in his backyard.  Family was so important to John and he enjoyed the benefit unknown to so many in our contemporary time of having all three of his children and their families live close by.

John could joke and flirt and prankster in the office.  Yet he had the highest expectation of professionalism and hard work by all who worked under him.  He subscribed to Chief Counsel Marvin Dessler’s approach that you had to be thorough and get it right.  He would think outside the box but you better first show him you knew the box.  You researched back to 1935 for the FAA Act and back to the Civil War, if not earlier, for the IRC. 

John knew the difference between personal and professional.  You could have a “down and dirty” discussion on legal matters and five minutes later be talking about your families.  The line between the two was respected and not crossed.

His professionalism was unmatched.  Many of you know John’s distasteful view of the Section 5010 credit following his seminal legislative project on All-in Bond.  Yet he treated with respect the lobbyist who got this enacted.  Similarly, with the small producer wine credit, he was respectful in later meetings, though in all of these situations he would have one of us sit in on the meetings as a witness to the discussions.   

For 24 years, I had the benefit of John as my boss and mentor in Counsel’s office.  In 2003, we both woke up one morning to different jobs.  He as Deputy Administrator and me as Chief Counsel.  In moving to the program side of the bureau from the Counsel side, the bureau greatly benefited from his wisdom and guidance.  For me, he respected my role as essentially successor Chief Counsel to him.  Yet I always knew in advisory meetings with him, the bar on my legal advice was high because he had been the experienced Chief Counsel. 

His love and dedication and worry about the future of TTB, I believe kept him in his job as Administrator longer than most others would have stayed.  John came from and understood a Washington, DC that worked better.  His dedication may well have had its toll on him.

John was a humble and dutiful Roman Catholic.  May God grant him eternal peace and I know that the Lord is saying “well done my good and faithful servant.” 

May those of us who gather next month in Louisville for the NCSLA conference or elsewhere toast him.  His favorite bourbon was Blanton’s (Mark Brown did not pay me to say that) so let us all raise the glass to him.

John, you are missed.

No man is an island entirely of himself.  He is piece of the continent, a part of the main.  If a clod of dirt be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less as well as if a promontory were.  Every man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.  Thus, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

The Rev. John Donne.  1572 – 1631  

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