John D. Tully is being remembered today as a beloved, effective leader who was a true gentleman, consummate professional and unfailingly kind to everyone, from the humblest of clients to his opponents in court. Our dear friend and longtime partner passed away on Saturday, August 29 after a long battle against Parkinsonism. He will be deeply missed.
After completing a clerkship for Judge Noel Fox in U.S. District Court of the Western District of Michigan, Mr. Tully spent his 52-year career at Warner Norcross + Judd. John was a noted litigator focused on environmental, construction, probate and a wide variety of other matters. He was recognized as an effective and passionate advocate for his clients even while practicing the highest level of civility.
Mr. Tully served as the firm’s fourth Managing Partner from 1998 through 2001 and was key to sustaining and enhancing Warner’s culture, which remains a draw to attorneys and staff alike. He was proud to serve for many years as legal counsel to the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids.
Throughout his legal career, Mr. Tully was involved with landmark cases that set important legal precedents. One of those was Berry, et al. v. School District of the City of Benton Harbor, et al.,
which was one of the early, groundbreaking school desegregation cases. Mr. Tully tirelessly represented the school district in the case, which lasted for decades and was one of the early legal efforts to bring about racial equity. The case continued under Court oversight for more than 20 years, and was one of the seminal cases in the country.
Mr. Tully was also was very active in cutting-edge environmental matters in the early days of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, more commonly known as the federal Superfund statute. In one case, Mr. Tully successfully negotiated the first-ever covenant not to sue in such matters by the EPA. In another, he and a team from Warner represented a company in a case that set the early parameters of successor liability in Superfund liability.
Active professionally, Mr. Tully served as President of the Grand Rapids Bar Association during the 1990s. Recognized as one of the Best Lawyers in America
for his trial work, he was also a life member of the Sixth Circuit Judicial Conference. He served on the Judicial campaign Ethics Committee and the Judicial Qualifications committee for the State Bar of Michigan. Last year, he received the 2019 Justice Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grand Rapids Bar Association for his commitment to the principles of improving the administration of justice, educating the public about core democratic values and promoting legal services to the disadvantaged. Mr. Tully is a past president of Opera Grand Rapids, former Board chairman of St. Mary’s Hospital and former executive board member of The Right Place Program.
Anyone who had the pleasure of working with Mr. Tully quickly appreciated his kindness and humanity, along with his sharp wit. One of his colleagues noted: “John is a giant among men. Not because of his size and remarkable strength, but because of his character. Kind, caring, empathetic and wise.” Another wrote, “It is rare to meet someone who leaves such a positive impression on people.” A third recalled: “John always is spoken of as a great person and a great lawyer. Once you’ve met him, you will like and remember him.”
Outside of the office, Mr. Tully was known for his love of all things athletic, which traced to his days playing basketball for his beloved University of Notre Dame. John was a regular at basketball games at the Athletic Club and also developed a fine game in squash and tennis. Once on the court, his competitive side became more pronounced.
Proud of his Irish heritage, Mr. Tully led the Ancient Order of Hibernians Society
in Grand Rapids, a role that enabled him to lead the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade for many years. He and his wife, Cheryl, were passionate devotees of opera, often building trips around the opportunity to see a favorite performance. They traveled to opera houses throughout the country to hear Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” which was 18 hours of music over four evenings. They reveled in their time with their grandchildren.
Today, we have lost part of our family. Warner will deeply miss our colleague and caring friend, John Tully.
Read the obituary for John Tully here