Starling Thomas Morris

Starling Thomas (Tom) Morris, age 101, Amarillo, Texas, died Monday, October 4, 2021.  Funeral arrangements are by Boxwell Brothers Funeral Directors, 2800 Paramount Boulevard.

His wife of 68 years, Estella Garnett Morris, died September 13, 2011.  He is survived by a sister, Alice Beth Willis of Fort Worth, two daughters, Linda Lee Willard of Amarillo, and Vicki Rey Fineran of Castle Rock, Colorado; three granddaughters, Skye Fineran, Autumn Fineran and Auroele Fineran, of Castle Rock, Colorado; numerous family members, friends and colleagues.  He was predeceased by his parents, four brothers, James “Jim” Morris, Minter “Jack” Morris, Ennis “Tut” Morris and Haynes Morris, and his sons-in-law, David Willard and Martin Fineran.

Tom was born November 12, 1919, in Penelope, Texas, the second son of James L. Morris and Alice B. Morris.  The family moved to Maypearl, Texas in 1920, and Tom graduated from high school at Maypearl in 1937.

He attended junior college at North Texas Agricultural College in Arlington, and entered the University of Texas Law School at Austin in September 1939.  During his senior year and shortly after Pearl Harbor, he was called into the United States Navy Air and served from January 2, 1942, until October 1945, when he was discharged with the rank of Lieutenant Senior Grade.  From December 1943 until his discharge, he served with Air Group 80 and flew the Hell Diver SB2C and the Hell Cat Fighter F6F from the USS Ticonderoga and the USS Hancock.  When he was discharged, he was flying the Corsair F4U4 Fighter Bomber, preparing for the invasion of Japan.

After discharge, he returned to the University of Texas Law School to complete his senior year and graduated in June 1946.  In Law School he was a Quiz Master, was admitted to Chancellor’s and Order of the Coif and was an Editor of the Texas Law Review.  Upon graduation he was elected to the faculty of the Law School and taught for two years.  During those two years he developed and taught the first course on Legal Argument and Writing and taught in the newly-organized “Equal but Separate” Law School for black students.

Upon leaving the faculty in 1948, he began his law practice in Harlingen, Texas, and he moved to Amarillo in September 1949.  On April 1, 1950, he joined the firm of Gibson, Ochsner and Little (which later became Gibson, Ochsner and Adkins) and practiced in that firm until September 2003, when he joined the Underwood Law Firm, where he was practicing at the time of his death.

He was a member of the State Bar of Texas, the Amarillo Area Bar Association, the Texas Association of Defense Counsel, a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

His law practice brought many achievements and honors.  Perhaps his greatest achievement was his victory in 1966, in the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case of Graham v. Deere, which established the law of non-obvious subject matter in patent cases, and remains the law today after 55 years.  That case was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court three times in recent years and it has been cited in more than 30,000 cases and legal articles.  He has argued and won many cases in the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Courts of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  He was admitted to practice in the United States Courts of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit, the Sixth Circuit, the Ninth Circuit, the District of Columbia Circuit and the Federal Circuit.

His legal honors include the Chief Justice Charles L. Reynolds Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001; an award by the Texas Bar Foundation in 2005 as one of six outstanding lawyers in Texas with more than 50 years practice; the State Bar of Texas Legal Legend Award in 2017, and the State Bar of Texas, Intellectual Property Section, Tom Arnold Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

Tom had three passions:  first, his beloved family; second, the legal profession and his law firm, and third, the game of golf.  The latter needs a little special attention.  Golf became a passion when he had his first lessons from Harvey Penick in 1946 and broke 90 that summer.  He ultimately earned a single-digit handicap, which he carried until old age broke it up.  He had five holes-in-one, shot 67 at age 67, shot 79 at the Old Course in St. Andrews, 79 at Augusta National and par 72 at Broadmoor East in Colorado Springs.  He played in the Texas Tri-State Senior Golf Association tournament for many years, was president for one term and received the Colonel Bogey Award twice.  Most recently, he was honored by the Amarillo Country Club for more than 60 years of service in improving the Golf Course and a plaque in his honor appears on the Starter’s Shack at the First Tee.

Funeral services will be graveside rites only in Llano East Cemetery at 10:00 a.m., Saturday, October 9, 2021.

In lieu of flowers, please make any donations to your favorite charity, but Tom suggested the Methodist Children’s Home, P.O. Box 5010, Waco, Texas  76708-9989, the Presbyterian Children’s Home, 3400 Bowie, Amarillo, Texas  79109, The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 2490, Amarillo, Texas  79105-2490, or Faith City Mission, P.O. Box 870, Amarillo, Texas  79105-0870.

Special thanks and gratitude to the blessing and his caregiver Brian Raef.


11 Replies to “Starling Thomas Morris”

  1. This is an overdue lament, but Mr. Morris was a faithful patient of mine for several years. He was a remarkable, kind soul who was the definition of class. I know he will be sorely missed. My condolences to his surviving family. Dr. Joe D. Williams

  2. As one of his young associates at Gibson Ochsner in the late 1970’s, Tom couldn’t have been more gracious and patient with me, and a wonderful mentor. Later, after moving to Houston, I stopped by to visit him while on a driving vacation with my family passing through Amarillo. Of course on a Saturday I knew he’d be in the office! He often mentioned Maypearl, TX, where he grew up. He once described to me the terrors of war as he did his duty.
    He was a great guy and a real Iron Man, which the associates affectionately called him, along with a wonderful family. He will be missed.

  3. A wonderful person, great attorney (always gave sage advice), very good if not great putter, and enjoyed a good martini on occasion.

  4. Tom was a wonderful person to know as a friend, fellow attorney, (often giving sage advice), golfing friend, and on some occasions enjoying a good martini.

  5. What an accomplished man who used his talents to the fullest. Thank you for sharing the highlights of his amazing life in this obituary.
    My love and condolences to Linda and Vicky.

  6. Tom touched the life of so many people. I was honored to be part of Toms care and became such a special friend. Rest In Peace.

  7. Tom touched the lives of so many people .I was so honored to be part of Toms care and became my friend. You touched my heart. Rest In Peace my friend.

  8. The world has lost a great man! Rest easy, Mr. Morris. Love and prayers to Linda, Vicki, Autumn, Skye and Auri

  9. So sorry to hear about Tom. He was a kind and gracious man. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and your sister. Your mom are dad are together again.

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