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A man of the people

Cady's relatability, respectability made him one of a kind

Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady, of Fort Dodge, speaks to students at St. Edmond High School.

I was standing near the sidelines at the end of a Fort Dodge football game in 2003 when I had my first extended conversation with Mark Cady.

We had exchanged cordial hellos before, mostly on the golf course or just in random moments around town. This was different. I was by myself, taking notes as the clock ticked away, when he casually strolled over.

I’m not always comfortable around powerful people. They often possess a level of confidence – and sometimes arrogance – that can very easily make the best of us “normal folks” feel small and insignificant. So when Mark Cady – a member of the Iowa Supreme Court who was, for all intents and purposes, a “celebrity” in our community – decided he wanted to talk to me about something, I’m sure I looked noticeably intimidated.

His son, Spencer, was a junior football, basketball and track standout at the time. Was Mark disappointed in something I’d written about Spencer or the program? Did he want better coverage? My mind was racing as he firmly shook my hand.

That’s when my perspective on Mark immediately and forever changed for the better. And why our entire state is mourning his sudden death last Friday at the age of 66.

Mark was patient with his words. Mild-mannered. Fair. Everything you’ve read over and over again recently from the leaders in our state who deeply respected his knowledge and disposition.

He complimented the work of our sports staff and The Messenger. We talked about football, Dodger athletics, and Fort Dodge in general. It took him all of about two minutes to not only put my mind at ease, but leave me hoping we’d run into each other again soon.

We did from time to time in the years to come. They weren’t necessarily serious or lengthy conversations, but given Mark’s schedule and my position, I understood it had to be more about quality than quantity. I wasn’t important, but he made me feel as such. He was important, but he made it seem like that didn’t really matter at all.

When I received the news of his sudden passing the other night, it hit me hard. Not because I was especially close to Mark, either personally or professionally. There are hundreds of friends and family members who could offer better stories or more specific examples relative to his wisdom and grace.

I just sense how much Fort Dodge and Iowa in general will miss him: as a true leader, mentor, and guiding light in a world desperately needing compassionate and transformative leadership. He constantly emphasized the importance of seeking balance and always learning, growing and evolving as an individual. Perfect human beings don’t exist, but perfect perspectives on the value of life very well could. And you’d be hard pressed to find a better point of view than that of Mark Cady.

Two of the most difficult characteristics to obtain in this world are universal respect and the ability to bring out the best in everyone around you. Mark came as close as anyone I know to checking both boxes.

Not everyone agreed with him, and very few measured up to his legal brilliance or professional standards. It didn’t matter, though. Because he took the time to listen and show concern for the well-being of so many, people from all walks of life felt connected to Mark on a very personal level. That’s why the loss is profound and ubiquitous, ranging from the Governor’s office and the Iowa Supreme Court all the way through everyday Fort Dodgers or Iowans who simply crossed paths with him at one time or another.

If you have a Mark Cady story, consider yourself lucky. And remember, the best way to preserve his legacy – as impossible and complicated as it may seem today – is to keep it simple: in your own lives, above all else, always try to be humble and kind. He would want it that way.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports