Late prosecutor touched many lives in the Keys
I would receive a text reading “HH,” which was Manny’s code for happy hour. It was typically a Monday or Tuesday and it was understood we would meet at the Brewery. And it was equally understood I would have to endure relentless taunts ranging from his superior billiards abilities to how the Miami Hurricanes were the greatest program in college football history (and Manny could win any argument — especially those pertaining to Canes football).
But these weekly sessions are what I will miss the most about Manny Madruga. If you knew Manny, he had sheepish grin that accompanied his jabs, but it was that same endearing trademark that made Manny, a tenacious prosecutor, one of the most approachable figures in the room.
And perhaps that was Manny; a paradox. Inside the courtroom, he was a fierce prosecutor with an unrivaled passion for the law. Just after graduating from the University of Miami Law School, Manny joined the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office and shortly after prosecuted his first murder trial at the age of 26. Manny went on to prosecute some of the highest profile cases in the history of the county and in 2009 he was honored with the Gene Berry Memorial Award from the Florida Prosecuting Attorney’s Association — its highest honor.
Yet Manny’s legacy outside of work was equally impressive. Madruga served on dozens of boards and devoted his time to countless non-profits, including the Boys and Girls Club, MARC House, Masonic Lodge, Key West Ambassador Program, Sunset Rotary and countless others.
Today, a recent picture with members of Manny’s Leadership Monroe County Class serves as his profile picture on Facebook. He took great pride in staying connected with that particular group, which is where I met Manny in 2007. Just recently, he told me, “After all of these years, it makes me proud that our class still has the most representation at Leadership functions.” Sure, Manny was always competitive, but he also cared about preserving relationships.
Manny had many friends, but one of his closest friends was his ex-wife, Ani. Manny would often remark that one of his proudest, and most thankful, achievements was that he and Ani remained close after their divorce. It was during one his stories about Ani that he once choked up. He was remarking on the early days and how she was incredible mother. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.
Family was sacred to Manny. In his last months, he spent weekends in Miami tending to his mother as she rehabbed from an illness. I would often invite him out to watch a game or shoot some pool, but Manny would text back that he was heading to his mom’s. He never once treated it as a duty. Instead, he would return to “HH” with updates on his mother’s progress and how proud he was of her determination. I don’t think he ever stopped to realize it, but his descriptions about his mother were reflections of his own fortitude and character.
Above Hurricane football and deer hunting in South Georgia, Manny cherished trips to see his daughter Natalie in college. Some of Manny’s favorite stories involved something simple, such as some dinner in Orlando with Natalie, but those were their stories and not mine to tell. I can simply tell you that Manny loved his daughter as much as any father could.
My stories are like so many others who knew Manny. He touched countless lives in a myriad of social and professional circles. The themes of these memories will all share a common denominator about a man whose artistry was words … yet he led by example in life. I don’t know how much love a person can give, but Manny gave every day — to so many people. And while we may never know exactly why our friend took his own life, I will always believe that Manny gave until he could give no more. And like all of us, I simply wish I could have one more text reading “HH.”