Thomas B. Morris Jr., 83, a former partner and chairman of the Center City law firm Dechert LLP and a long-time resident of Chestnut Hill, died Thursday, May 14, at the Cathedral Village senior-living community in Philadelphia after a seven-year battle with Lewy body dementia.
“Our father was an achiever at the highest level in different fields, but he never lost what was important to him: curiosity, integrity, and most of all, family,” said Richard Trevor Morris, one of Mr. Morris’ three children.
Mr. Morris grasped the importance of being responsible and working hard at an early age. As a high school freshman, he won an academic scholarship to the prestigious Columbus Academy in Ohio. Just two weeks before he was to give the valedictory speech at his graduation ceremony in 1954, his mother died. As the oldest of five siblings, he stepped up to take a larger role in the lives of his brothers and sisters.
But that did not stop Mr. Morris from enrolling at Princeton University that fall and four years later at Harvard University Law School, from which he graduated in 1962. He then was hired at what then was Dechert Price & Rhoads. He rose to become a partner and ultimately chairman. He retired as a senior partner and chairman emeritus in 2001.
Winning a scholarship to Columbus Academy, where he graduated cum laude, was a life-changing event for Mr. Morris, whose family could not have afforded the tuition, said his son, who recalled his father saying that if he had not attended the school, he likely would not have gone to Princeton and Harvard. In 2004, Mr. Morris funded an alumni scholarship at the school through the award program that had provided him the opportunity to attend the academy.
At Princeton, Mr. Morris was awarded the Roper Trophy, the highest athletic award, and won six letters in football and baseball. In 1957, he earned the Maxwell Award, given to the best college football player in the country, for his winning performance against Colgate. He scored three touchdowns and threw for a fourth during that game.
While at Harvard, Mr. Morris spent the summer of 1961 in Philadelphia interning for Dechert. On a blind date he met his future wife, Ann Peirce, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work.
They married in 1963 and started a family that includes daughter Lauren Ayres O’Connell and son Thomas Bateman Morris III in addition to Richard Morris.
Mr. Morris began by specializing in international corporate law. In 1968 he opened the firm’s first international office, in Brussels, Belgium, and served as the consul of Belgium in Philadelphia from 1974 to 1989.
“Tom was an extraordinary leader with a great presence. He was a great gentleman. You don’t meet people like that anymore,” said Barton Winokur, a Dechert partner who succeeded Mr. Morris as chairman.
“He was a guy who cared about people much more than money. He cared about the well-being not just of his partners, not just of his lawyers, not just of the executives, but of everybody. He went home every night worrying about everybody at the firm. He was a leader," Winokur said.
Away from work, Mr. Morris was an avid gardener and became such a good skier that for years, he and his family spent their winters in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he took copious notes on the sport and was always in search of the perfect turn, said Richard Morris, a New York literary agent and author of children’s books.
“My father was an inspiration for a lot of people in his life. He was a great family man and loved his family, but what I think is most important is the fact that he was able to be successful and contribute to others,” he said.
Among the corporate and nonprofit boards Mr. Morris served on were Berwind Corp., PNC Bank, Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital, The Philadelphia Contributionship, Keystone State Life Insurance, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Greater Philadelphia First, The Free Library of Philadelphia, the International House of Philadelphia, Princeton, and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
He was a member of the Pine Valley Golf Club, Sunnybrook Golf Club, New York Athletic Club, Philadelphia Club, Racquet Club, and Athenaeum of Philadelphia.
In addition to his wife and children, Mr. Morris is survived by two brothers and two sisters.
Due to the coronavirus, a memorial service will be held later, the family said. He was buried in a private ceremony the day after his death.