The dedication Lila Dean (Sealey) McManus showed to the Chickasaw Nation came from a deep-seated place. A granddaughter of original Chickasaw allottees, Lila Dean McManus, 78 (July 20, 1938-March 18, 2017), was one of 25 original employees of the Chickasaw Nation hired in the 1970s by now-governor Bill Anoatubby.
“She was [with Chickasaw Nation] for 40 years,” said Karen Goodnight, McManus’s daughter. “That was her life’s work. She was devoted to the tribe, and she loved the tribe. She was totally dedicated to the Chickasaw people and the Chickasaw Nation. She liked being Chickasaw and had a passion for serving others and making a difference.”
Before working for her Chickasaw people, McManus was a stay-at-home mother, raising her children while her husband, Harrel, worked for the family. According to Goodnight, McManus’s initial devotion to the Chickasaw Nation was potentially based on dealing with the grief of her youngest child.
“She lost my little sister to a heart disease at 21 days old,” Goodnight said. “That was her second child she had already lost. She got depressed. She went to the doctor, and the doctor told her that in order for her to come out of her depression, she really needed to find something she could do with her time—to keep her busy and occupied. He suggested that she find a job outside the home. That was when she started looking for a job, and she found one at Chickasaw Nation.”
One of McManus’s first jobs was as a community health representative. Eventually, she became the director of human resources in 1995 and then moved to be the director of training and development programs. By 1999, she took her love for her Chickasaw people in a new direction when she resigned from tribal employment and was elected to the nation’s legislature as the Pontotoc District, Seat 4 representative for at least five terms.
Some of her accomplishments, Goodnight said, included serving on the board that hired both the Chickasaw Cultural Center and the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center’s designers, as well as being involved with outreach to those tribal members who lived outside of the Chickasaw tribal jurisdiction. Culturally, Goodnight said she enjoyed attending events in her Ada, Oklahoma area, as well as making visits to the traditional Chickasaw homeland in Mississippi.
Her awards throughout her service were multiple and include being a voting representative for the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes; a 2005 alternate delegate to the White House Conference on Aging; president of the National Association of Community Health Representatives; recipient of the U.S. Indian Health Service’s Stellar Leadership Award; honoree of the American Association of Retired Persons; and serving on the board of directors for the National Foundation for Women Legislators.
Yet, McManus still found time for her family. Goodnight said that her mother was the same person whether she was at home or on tribal business.
“She was the same way at home that she was at work,” Goodnight said. “She loved her family. She loved her church and community. She loved people. That was the same way that she was at work. She really wasn’t much different. She was a proud mother and grandmother. She was the matriarch of our home, and we all looked to her for wisdom and guidance.”
As part of the obituary release issued by Chickasaw Nation, Gov. Anoatubby stated “our thoughts and prayers go out to the many friends and family members of Dean McManus who will be so deeply affected by her loss,” he said. “Those of us who were fortunate enough to know her as a friend remember her good-natured smile which arose from her caring and compassionate personality.
“We will also miss the passion and dedication she brought to her work for the Chickasaw people. Her life and career will have a profound impact on Chickasaw people for generations to come.”
Survivors of McManus include Goodnight and her husband, Stan, of Norman, Oklahoma; Sherri McManus, of Ada, Oklahoma; and Kristina McManus, of Eldorado, Kansas; a brother, Leonard Sealey, of Lawton, Oklahoma; and a sister, Virginia Lantria, South Bend, Indiana. McManus also had 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Goodnight said that McManus left behind a legacy that encouraged Chickasaw people to learn about their heritage and “be an example of hope and kindness,” she said. Goodnight also said that Lila Dean McManus left behind a legacy of Christian faith, love for others and the values of perseverance.
“One of her greatest values is that she had a big heart and was very forgiving,” Goodnight said. “I think that’s a real huge one.”