Appreciation

Legendary Houston attorney Joe Jamail is remembered for his generosity and salty wit

Legendary attorney Joe Jamail is remembered for his generosity and wit

Bill Hobby, from left, Joe Jamail, Herb Kelleher and Rodney Ellis at the Bill Hobby Roast January 2015
Joe Jamail, second from left, cracked up the audience at a roast for former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby, left, in January. Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher and State Sen. Rodey Ellis also took part. Photo by © Kim Coffman

Legendary Houston attorney Joe Jamail, whose courtroom prowess made him a billionaire and whose generosity helped transform his beloved alma mater the University of Texas at Austin, died Wednesday morning from complications of pneumonia, according to news reports.

He was 90 years old.

Known as the "King of Torts," Jamail was best known for representing Pennzoil in a bitter lawsuit against Texaco. He won a colossal $10.5 billion judgment in 1985 when a jury found that Texaco had interfered with Pennzoil's plans to acquire Getty Oil. Jamail's contingency fee was a reported $335 million. 

The Houston native was a graduate of St. Thomas High School and received his BA at The University of Texas at Austin  in 1950 and his JD from the University of Texas School of Law  in 1953.

He was regularly on the Forbes list of richest Americans, ranking No. 368 on last year's list with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion.

Jamail's generosity was renown. With his late wife Lee, he established the Lee and Joseph D. Jamail Foundation in 1986, through which he gave more than $250 million to education, medical research and the performing arts. In 2013, Baylor College of Medicine named its outpatient clinic the Lee and Joe Jamail Specialty Care Center in honor of the couple. In 2008, the $2.7 million Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark opened near downtown Houston.

He gave millions to UT Austin. The football field at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium is named Joe Jamail Field in his honor, and so is the Joseph D. Jamail, Jr. Pavilion at The University of Texas School of Law. The Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center is named for him and his wife and two statues were erected on the campus in his honor.

"I don't think The University of Texas has ever had a better friend than Joe Jamail," former University of Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds told BurntOrangeNation.com. "When something needed to get done on campus, you could count on him to help. Joe wasn't a guy wanting to give advice or get his way; he just wanted to know what he could do to be part of the solution. "

In a January article, Texas Monthly called Jamail "The Greatest Lawyer Who Ever Lived," and prefaced the story with this legal disclaimer: " 'Salty language' doesn’t begin to describe the words Jamail uses in this piece. If you read on, which we recommend, and find yourself offended, you will have no appeal."

Funeral arrangements are pending.