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For James Tory, law 'just seemed like a grace for him'

James A. Tory James M. Tory, one of Canada’s most senior lawyers and corporate directors, has died suddenly at the age of 83.

When James M. Tory and his twin brother, John, joined their father's small Toronto law firm in 1954, their plan was a traditional one: Learn the trade from the small firm's senior lawyers and gradually build expertise in corporate law.

Things did not go as planned.

Not long after their arrival at Tory and Associates, most of the firm's senior lawyers quit to build their own firms. Then their father fell ill. The two young men – with help from two law school classmates who had joined the firm – scrambled to handle complex corporate work for many of Canada's largest companies while maintaining the public appearance that all was running smoothly.

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"My grandfather became quite ill in their very early years of practice, so he was a lot less involved than the clients of the firm would have assumed," said James C. Tory, Jim's son. "Really from their early- to mid-20s on, this very young group of lawyers led by my dad and uncle were doing very significant complex work – and largely unsupervised."

The lessons of those early days had a profound effect on Jim Tory, shaping his lifelong management of Torys LLP, which became one of Bay Street's leading law firms under his decades of leadership. Mr. Tory died Monday in Nova Scotia at the age of 83.

Colleagues say Mr. Tory uniquely appreciated that young lawyers could handle complex tasks at an early age, and that generous leadership was needed to keep top talent from departing.

"It was a traumatic experience seeing the implosion of that firm, and I think my dad learned lessons about how a firm should be run and the kind of culture that would make for the kind of place that would allow a firm to endure," said James Tory, who himself joined Torys as a lawyer in the 1980s.

Mr. Tory also decided at a young age that one of his key roles as leader would be to manage a seamless transition after his retirement. By the time he stepped back from active management at Torys at 65, remaining an adviser, the firm was smoothly run by a management committee with an elected managing partner.

"He always said, 'My name is on the firm and I care about it, and I want it to live long into the future,'" said Torys partner Peter Jewett. With more than 300 lawyers, the firm has indeed become an institution that appears poised to endure.

Mining entrepreneur Peter Munk, a long-time client and friend, said Mr. Tory deserves to be remembered for how much he – and his influential law firm – shaped Canada's business landscape during the 1950s and onward. "He belonged to a generation of Canadians that built this country after the Second World War into what this country is today," Mr. Munk said.

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Mr. Tory was more than a lawyer, he said. He was a brilliant corporate adviser who could be counted on to find elegant solutions to problems or conflicts. "I can't recall having met anybody who I had more respect for than Jim Tory – his advice in business, his advice on the right thing to do under all conditions," Mr. Munk said.

David Beatty, who served with Mr. Tory on the board of Inmet Mining Corp., said both Jim and John (who died in 2011) were hugely influential business leaders, each in his own right. John Tory ultimately built an independent career working for the wealthy Thomson family and advising entrepreneur Ted Rogers as he built his cable empire.

"The two of them just had an extraordinary contribution in their time to the Toronto business community," Mr. Beatty said.

Taking over the family firm

James Marshall Tory and his fraternal twin brother John Arnold were born on March 7, 1930, to Toronto lawyer John S.D. Tory and his wife Jean. The couple also had an older daughter, Virginia.

For decades, both boys led closely parallel lives. They demonstrated unusual intelligence, skipping grades before graduating at 16 from University of Toronto Schools, an exclusive private high school.

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Since they were too young for university, their father decided to send them both to Phillips Academy, a private boarding school in Andover, Mass., for two years. They started their undergraduate degrees at the University of Toronto, but after two years switched streams to join the inaugural class of the University of Toronto's new law school in 1949.

After three years of study the brothers graduated, with Jim winning the gold medal for highest overall average. They completed two years of additional training at Osgoode Hall, then both joined their father's firm at the age of 24.

In their early years, they faced the defection of the firm's other lawyers, who were not offered partnerships at the sole-proprietor firm and decided the arrival of Mr. Tory's two sons further limited their likelihood of advancement.

In 1964, just months before their father died, the firm was renamed Tory, Tory, DesLauriers and Binnington after the brothers and their partners Bill DesLauriers and Arthur Binnington, law school classmates who had joined the firm shortly after their arrival. (It was rebranded Torys LLP in 2000.)

Mr. DesLauriers says many of the firm's biggest clients at the time – including Roy Thomson, Wood Gundy, Massey Ferguson and Simpsons-Sears – were brought in by John S.D. Tory, who founded the firm in 1941, so the young partners were deeply worried they would lose accounts following his death.

With the firm's four partners only in their mid-30s, they decided to adopt as mature an image as possible to reassure their senior clients. "It meant buying yourself a new dark suit and a vest and trying to appear 10 years older than you were," Mr. DesLauriers said. "Although I've got to say that was not something Jim Tory would do – he never had any particular sartorial concerns."

Friends say that while John was serious, organized and meticulously groomed, Jim didn't worry about small details. He routinely forgot to track his time sheets to bill clients, he didn't keep money in his pockets and he often appeared rumpled, with shirttails untucked and hair askew. Unsurprisingly, John took on most of the practical tasks of managing the law firm after their father's death.

"They came across as pretty different people, but their core values were exactly the same," said Woodbridge Co. Ltd. chief executive officer David Binet, who worked for both men at different times in his career.

Parallel paths diverged

When John announced his plan to leave the firm in 1973 to help manage the Thomson family's enormous wealth through their Woodbridge holding company, it was a blow to lose his hands-on guidance.

In an interview in 2011, Jim said he and his brother agreed in retrospect it was the best possible decision for John to eventually pursue a separate path, leaving Jim to run the law firm without competition between the two of them. But at the time, it was a huge adjustment. "He ran the firm; I liked to dabble and do my legal stuff, but I had no interest in the business side of the law firm," Jim said.

Mr. DesLauriers said he feared at the time that John's departure would be a disaster, but the firm adapted. One key step was to hire business managers to replace John's managerial skills, leaving Jim to focus on legal work and serving clients.

Mr. Binet, who worked under Jim as a lawyer at Torys, said his one-time boss was not a narrow or "technical" lawyer, but someone who excelled at seeing the big picture beyond the legal details. "He could see where clients wanted to go, and he would pick a path toward that goal which was sometimes remarkable in terms of the foresight he had," Mr. Binet said.

"And he did it all with such a light touch … He had such an easy manner to him that it just seemed like a grace for him."

Part of that easy grace was evidenced by Mr. Tory's love of joking and storytelling – especially when he could be the butt of his own stories.

Mr. DesLauriers remembers meeting Mr. Tory one evening at the law firm's Bay Street offices. Mr. Tory was stepping off the elevator, limping along wearing only one shoe. He had jammed the other shoe into an elevator to hold the door open while he reached for something, but it came loose and disappeared as the door closed and the elevator departed.

Mr. Tory was never embarrassed by his small mishaps, Mr. DesLauriers said, and was happy to make them fodder for his stories. While some people would be appalled to have their errors aired publicly, Mr. Tory happily told war stories to junior lawyers about his own legal mistakes and behind-the-scenes scrambles on big deals.

Canny advice delivered with a joke

This comfortable social touch endeared Mr. Tory to his colleagues and helped him form a large circle of friends, but it also paved the ground for building close bonds with his clients, who relied on canny strategic advice delivered with tension-diffusing joking.

"Jim was a great guy to just phone up and ask an opinion about something," said retired Toronto-Dominion Bank chief executive Richard Thomson. "He could come up with a solution and a compromise – he was a very good adviser."

Former Inmet Mining Corp. CEO Jochen Tilk said Mr. Tory had a "brilliant mind" and became an even more flexible and innovative thinker as he grew older.

He said Mr. Tory was a generous mentor to him when he was starting out as an unknown young engineer, and remained a loyal friend later. "There's no other person I can think of who has been more influential and supportive in my career," Mr. Tilk said.

Mr. Tory served for almost 40 years on the board of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, and had "a great effect on the hospital," said Mr. Thomson, who was a fellow director for decades. He said Mr. Tory was instrumental in helping create the hospital's charitable arm, known as the SickKids Foundation, formed in 1972 after the hospital received two huge bequests.

Mr. Thomson said several board members feared that leaving the money in the hospital's regular accounts could lead the government to conclude it didn't need as much public funding until the donations were used up on operating costs.

The new foundation was a rarity for hospitals at that time in Canada, and remains one of the country's largest charitable pools with more than $700-million under management earlier this year.

'He treated everybody the same'

Mr. Tory's greatest pride was his large family. During his undergraduate years at the University of Toronto, Mr. Tory met classmate Marilyn Yorath, who was working on an arts degree. The couple married after his graduation from law school, and had five children and 13 grandchildren over their long marriage.

The family spent every summer at their vacation home in Guysborough, N.S., and their children continued to visit after they had grown up and had their own families.

After Marilyn died in 1999, Mr. Tory continued to spend long vacations in Nova Scotia, reading voraciously and still knocking off The Globe and Mail's cryptic crossword in minutes. His loss was deepened when his son David died in 2006 after a long fight with brain cancer, leaving his wife Nicola and four young children.

Mr. Tory spent last weekend at his house in Nova Scotia, sailing on Sunday afternoon and presiding over a dinner party with friends and family that evening. He appeared well and happy, but awoke that night with breathing difficulties and died within hours on Monday. Although his death was unexpected and a shock to his family, his end was peaceful, his son James said.

Mr. Tory leaves four children – Martha, James, Suzanne and Richard – and 13 grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Sept. 4 at 2 p.m. at St. James' Cathedral in Toronto.

His family will remember the patient respect Mr. Tory paid everyone he spoke with, no matter their age or position. "He treated everybody the same," James said, "from his young grandchildren to major corporate clients. He was very consistent."

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About the Author
Real Estate Reporter

Janet McFarland is the real estate reporter for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, with a focus on residential real estate trends. She joined Report on Business in 1995, and has specialized in reporting on corporate governance, executive compensation, pension policy, business law, securities regulation and enforcement of white-collar crime. More

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