Joe Jamail Dies at 90

Fenves's first day 2015 meeting with Joe Jamail

Attorney and Longhorn philanthropist Joe Jamail, BA ’50, JD ’53, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, died Wednesday at age 90.

One of the most successful trial attorneys in U.S. history, Jamail was an outspoken billionaire with a big heart. Born Oct. 19, 1925 in Houston to parents of Lebanese descent, he frequently credited UT’s role in his professional success, telling ESPN in 2012, “They took a chance on me.”

Jamail nearly went to Texas A&M instead of UT. His brother was an Aggie, so his parents enrolled him there as well. But he was already a Longhorn football fan, and after only two days, he “leapt out of a window” and hitchhiked from College Station to Austin, Jamail told the Alcalde in 1996. He initially took premed classes and flunked five of them before War War II interrupted. In 1943, he signed up for the Marines and served in the South Pacific.

Eventually, after some aimless weeks spent drinking at his parents’ home in Houston and a detour at Southwestern Louisiana Institute, Jamail made his way back to UT and applied for law school. There was just one little problem: There was no way he was getting into UT Law with all those Fs on his transcript. Using the rhetorical skills that would later make him a courtroom superstar, Jamail convinced the registrar—whose son had also served in the Marines—to give him a clean slate. He called it the chance of a lifetime.

“If you start comparing my practice of law to what I could have been—selling bananas, you’ll know why I gave money to the University of Texas,” Jamail later said.

He went on to a career full of landmarks: $11 billion for his client Pennzoil in 1985, then the largest jury verdict in history. Three product recalls. Five verdicts topping $100 million each. He was nicknamed the King of Torts. In the legal community, Jamail was famous for cursing like a sailor and never displaying anything less than supreme confidence. “There’s no lawsuit as pure as Ivory f—ing soap,” he told Texas Monthly“Leave all the bull— at home. Just bring the facts.”

Jamail showed his gratitude to UT by giving more than $41 million back to the university. You can’t walk far on the Forty Acres without seeing his name: There’s the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center, Joe Jamail Field, the Jamail Center for Clinical Education and Justice Under Law, and the Joseph D. Jamail Center for Legal Research, just to name a few. He also gave $15 million to support the university’s law, nursing, and undergraduate studies programs. The Texas Exes’ Joe & Lee Jamail-Joe & Teresa Lozano Long Challenge Grant Scholarship also bears his name. There are not one, but two statues of him on campus. In 1996, Jamail was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the university.

“UT-Austin lost a great friend,” president Greg Fenves said in a tweet Wednesday. “Joe Jamail is a legend and even more so at our great university.”

In a statement, men’s athletics director Mike Perrin called Jamail a giant of a man. “His contributions to The University of Texas are a lasting legacy and testament to his never ending quest to give back and support activities, the law and sports he believed in.”

Joe Jamail and UT president Greg Fenves pose with the Longhorn Band on Fenves’ first day in office on June 3, 2015.

Photo by Marsha Miller


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