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

Obituary

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

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.

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.

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.

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