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Pointe Personalities: Meet Tom Morris
Posted By: Kelli Bullard - 3/9/2020 12:00:00 AM

Much has been written about one of Amarillo’s favorite sons, but his 100th birthday provided a perfect opportunity to celebrate the life of Tom Morris one more time. He is a member of the Greatest Generation, but he stands out as a leader and role model, even among them. The accomplished lawyer recently sat down and answered questions about his childhood, his successful career, and his WWII experience.

Born in Penelope, Texas on November 12, 1919, Tom grew up in Maypearl, 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth.  At 17, he was named valedictorian of the Maypearl High School class of 1937 and then went on to attend North Texas Agricultural College.  After graduating with honors, he entered the University of Texas Law School. The dean discouraged him because he had only two years of college; nevertheless, he made top grades and was named Dean Hildebrand’s Quizmaster, a role awarded to the best students.

Tom was scheduled to graduate in May 1942, but December 7, 1941 changed everything. He had already enlisted in the Navy Air and received a deferment, but after the attack, the Navy directed him to report for duty January 2, 1942. He passed his solo flying test in April and was sent to Pensacola to be trained as a dive bomber.  That training included 75 hours in the Yellow Peril biplanes, then more hours in the Vultee Vibrator and the SNJ. He received his wings in November and was sent immediately to Opalaca to complete training for aircraft carriers.

It was during a training run in Jacksonville, Florida that the unthinkable happened. “We were doing practice dive-bombing runs,” Tom explains. “As the eighth plane and my plane were making turns, we collided.  He bailed out, but I tried to land my plane.  I came up short and plowed into some pine trees.  My plane was totally destroyed, but I was rescued.  I had multiple fractures and spent six months in the Navy Hospital.” 

After his recovery, Tom joined a squadron which was going aboard the new carrier, the USS Ticonderoga.  In January 1945, two kamikaze bombers struck the Ticonderoga, resulting in a loss of over 300 personnel, and the ship was temporarily out of commission.  After repairs, the Ticonderoga returned for the battles of Okinawa in the summer of 1945.

“We knew that when we returned to the Pacific, it would be for the invasion of Japan,” Tom says.  “We spent 30 days in the Imperial Desert. That was tough flying, with temperatures about 115-120 degrees.  We completed preparation and were about to board the carrier when President Truman dropped the ‘Bomb.’  The rest is history.”

 With enough points to muster out in October 1945, Tom returned to law school and graduated from UT with high honors in June 1946. He was quickly asked to join the faculty. “I was flabbergasted but immediately accepted,” Tom says. After serving two years on the faculty, Tom and a friend established a law practice in Harlingen, Texas. In 1949 he and his wife, Estella, took a driving tour of Texas to “find a better place.”  They turned down offers in Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and Houston.  Estella had grown up in Spearman, so they decided to move back to the Panhandle, settling in Amarillo in September 1949. 

Tom joined the firm of Gibson, Ochsner & Little in 1950, and remained there for 50 years.  One of his greatest career successes was in the landmark case of Graham v. Deere, a patent infringement case. He spent nearly 10 years on that case alone. The major case was decided by the United States Supreme Court in February 1966.  It established the law on a major point of patent law, and it has remained in place ever since with the case being cited as the authority more than 40,000 times.

At the age of 83, Tom went to work at the Underwood Law Firm in Amarillo, due to the closing of Gibson, Ochsner & Adkins. At 85, Tom was named one of five outstanding lawyers with over 50 years’ experience by the Texas Bar Foundation. 

In April 2017, Tom Morris was the 21st lawyer to be named a “Texas Law Legend” by the State Bar of Texas. In a speech at the Texas Tech Law School, he challenged aspiring attorneys with what he considered essential ingredients of a successful and rewarding career.

“Represent clients to the best of your ability.  Love what you do.  Dedicate yourself to study, to work. It’s not about self-aggrandizement but about doing what duty demands.”

Tom Morris still practices what he preaches.  He loves the law, and his devotion to it has rewarded him with respect from colleagues throughout his career.  He continues to show up five days a week at the Underwood Law Firm in Amarillo, where his partners continue to sing his praises.

“Mr. Morris has always set the highest level of professionalism,” says Gavin Gadberry, Underwood Law Firm President.  “He has taught all of us that the duty of an attorney to be a zealous advocate does not mean you check your courtesy and respect at the door.” 

“If a 100-year-old lawyer can work tirelessly without shortcuts to represent his clients, all lawyers can,” says Slater Elza, attorney and shareholder at Underwood Law Firm.  “His work ethic has been the one thing I took from the years we have worked together.”

Adapted from Amarillo Senior Link magazine; click here to read the full story)