U.S. District Judge Anthony A. Alaimo's "withering gaze can open an oyster at 60 feet," a fellow jurist once observed.
That gaze and the iron will behind it were extinguished Wednesday when Judge Alaimo died at age 89.
"Standing about 5 feet, 7 inches, he was a genuine giant among men," said U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr., of Augusta. "His will is iron, his grip a vise and his mind a steel trap."
Born in Sicily, Judge Alaimo came to America in 1922 when his parents, Salvatore and Santa Alaimo, emigrated.
During World War II, he was the lone survivor when his B-26 bomber was shot down over the North Sea in 1943.
That same year, he manned air pumps for fellow prisoners digging three escape tunnels at Stalag Luft III, actions captured in the 1963 movie The Great Escape .
He was transferred and later escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, making his way to northern Italy in early 1945 and later to Switzerland.
He earned his law degree from Emory University in 1948, graduating second in his class.
He moved his practice to Brunswick in 1957 where he practiced trial and appellate law.
In 1971, President Nixon chose Judge Alaimo to succeed Judge Alexander A. Lawrence, who moved to senior status, as the second district judge for the Southern District of Georgia.
Judge Alaimo remained active, serving as chief judge for almost 14 years until he assumed senior judge status at age 70 in 1990. He continued to maintain a full case load until early 2009 and stayed on the bench until Dec. 21.
During his tenure, Judge Alaimo -- and later, Judge B. Avant Edenfield beginning in 1978 and Judge Bowen in 1979 -- changed the face of the court, trimming the backlog of cases and streamlining its day-to-day operation until it became one of the most efficient districts in the nation.
Judge Bowen praised Judge Alaimo at a 1990 ceremony, saying, "His ethics, his sense of right and his integrity might more likely be found in a papal candidate than a lawyer."
"He was one of the best friends I have ever had," Judge Bowen said Wednesday.
Judge Edenfield said Judge Alaimo made his fellow bench and bar members better, citing his "high integrity and competence."
"We were a kind of legal partnership for over three decades," he said Wednesday.
Lawyers held Judge Alaimo in similar high regard.
Augusta attorney David Hudson, who practiced before Judge Alaimo beginning in 1972, said he was "extraordinarily fortunate" to have begun his law practice as a trial lawyer when Judge Alaimo was federal judge in Augusta.
"We were expected to be professional, courteous and prepared," he said. "He was a marvelous mentor to all of us who learned to try cases the Alaimo way."
Judge Alaimo was well known for working trials from early morning until well into the evening, then ordering lawyers and their clients to be back in court early the next day.
Jeanne Alaimo, who was married to Judge Alaimo for 62 years, died last January.
WHAT: Memorial service for Judge Anthony Alaimo
WHEN: 11 a.m. Friday
WHERE: St. Simons Presbyterian Church, 205 Kings Way
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The College of Coastal Georgia Foundation, 3700 Altama Ave., Brunswick, GA 31520.