The Jamail Name Lives on at UTMB
Famed Houston trial attorney Joe Jamail, known as the “King of Torts” and for his philanthropy toward his alma mater, the University of Texas, UTMB and many other institutions, died Dec. 23. He was 90.
“The UTMB family has lost one of its most admired members who was an inspiration to all of us for his tremendous generosity to the university,” said Dr. David Callender, UTMB president. “Joe Jamail and his wife Lee have left a legacy at UTMB that we will treasure for generations to come.”
Jamail was known internationally for the size of several verdicts, most notably a 1985 case in which Texaco, Inc. was ordered to pay $10.53 billion to his client, Pennzoil Company, for improperly enticing Getty Oil Company out of a merger agreement with Pennzoil.
Outside the courtroom, Jamail and his wife, Lee Hage Jamail, were known for their philanthropy, particularly toward his alma mater, the University of Texas. Joe Jamail earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from UT.
UTMB was fortunate to also count the Jamails as advocates and committed benefactors. Joe Jamail considered its hospital one of the best teaching hospitals in the country, recalled friend and Jamail Galveston Foundation President Don Stevens.
Stevens, also UTMB’s former governmental relations director, said he was fortunate to be among the Jamails’ circle of island residents who got to know the couple. He, in turn, helped the Jamails get to know UTMB.
In 1992, Joe Jamail and his wife turned to Stevens to ask how their philanthropy could help UTMB. Stevens consulted with then Dean of Medicine Dr. George Bryan, who suggested that a student center would be a tremendous value to UTMB’s students.
The three-story Lee Hage Jamail Student Center opened in 1997 on the strength of the couple’s generous $2 million gift to the university. At the time, it was the first student center at a university health science center in Texas.
Joe Jamail and his wife, who died in 2007, also established a $1 million endowment to support burn research and care at UTMB. The Joseph D. and Lee Hage Jamail Fund for Burn Research and Education was created because of their deep admiration for Dr. Truman G. Blocker, Jr., UTMB’s first president. Dr. Blocker’s stature and reputation were precisely what impressed the Jamails when they encountered him during his island strolls past their home. Since its inception, the Jamail Fund has supported the work of Dr. David N. Herndon, considered the preeminent expert in his field for devising innovative treatments of severe burns.
Through the Jamail Galveston Foundation, the Jamail family supported UTMB’s Breast Imaging Program that enabled UTMB to buy a mobile mammography van. The program provides critical breast cancer screening to underserved patients. The foundation also supported scholarships for the School of Nursing and the School of Health Professions. Another gift helped UTMB students replace books, computers and other supplies lost during Hurricane Ike. And a generous gift supported the development of a tele-psychiatry program within the Galveston Independent School District Teen Health Center.
Lee Jamail was also generous of her time as a Development Board member at UTMB. She served more than 10 years on the board.
Joseph Dahr Jamail Jr., who was born in Houston in 1925, was often asked to explain the motivation behind his philanthropy. He once offered this explanation: “Everything I did, I did trying to impress her,” he said of his wife. “All of it.” Another explanation was more pragmatic: “I just think it’s the right thing to do. You know there are no vaults where I’m headed, up or down.”
Aside from his philanthropy and legal expertise, Joe Jamil was known for his salty language, diehard support of Texas football and close friendships with UT Head Coach Darrell Royal and Willie Nelson. But it was his adoration of his wife that many admired most about him. Family friends said she was the only one who could reign in his larger than life persona. To their three sons, she was the glue that kept the family together.
Joe and Lee Jamail were married for 57 years. “She impressed me more than anybody I ever met―period,” he said of wife. “Truly we loved each other from the start to the end.” Joe Jamail is survived by three sons, Joseph Dahr Jamail, III, Randall Hage Jamail and Robert Lee Jamail, and several grandchildren.