Obituaries

Camille Sarrouf Sr., lawyer known for integrity and service, dies at 85

Mr. Sarrouf worked for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for decades.
Mr. Sarrouf worked for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for decades.

What would become Camille Sarrouf Sr.’s most publicized case had its beginnings at the outset of his legal career — not in a courtroom, but in simple financial transaction in the early 1960s. He liked the Boston Patriots, so he bought stock in the team.

“I was a fan,” he recalled in a 1986 interview with the Globe, and added: “I really thought the team was going to make it and that someday it was going to be sold and I’d make some money. For my children. I was able to do two things — to follow the Patriots and make an investment.”

By the mid-1970s, he and his family owned several hundred shares — Mr. Sarrouf liked to give his children Patriots stock for their birthdays. Then one day, he was told that the Sullivan family members, then the team’s principal owners, were buying up stock, and that his non-voting shares were worth $15, even though the voting shares were valued $102.

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That didn’t seem right to Mr. Sarrouf. He worked with others who held non-voting shares to challenge that valuation and the Sullivan family’s efforts. Mr. Sarrouf lent his name to one of three shareholder lawsuits that took about a dozen years to resolve. The result? Judges ruled the non-voting shares were worth $80, or with interest about $180, by the time the cases finished winding their way through courts and appeals.

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“Every time something came up, it only made me go back and work harder,” he told the Globe then. “I didn’t look at it as my own case, but my children’s case. I was going to court for them.”

Mr. Sarrouf, who built a decades-long career as a lawyer with a reputation for integrity and fighting on behalf of the powerless, died of cancer Sept. 4. He was 85 and had lived in Belmont.

“He clearly is looked at by many in the Massachusetts legal community as somebody who is the exemplar of the ethical lawyer,” said Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel and chief operating of the Massachusetts Bar Association, which Mr. Sarrouf had served as president.

“Many would seek him out when they were facing some very serious ethical or professional dilemmas,” Healy added. “He was the go-to attorney for many of the sitting judges today who are prominent, as well as prominent colleagues in the trial bar.”

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Mr. Sarrouf’s numerous honors include a lifetime achievement award from the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, which he formerly served as president, and an honorary doctorate from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He had chaired St. Jude’s Board of Governors, serving on the hospital’s boards for more than 30 years.

“It’s a big loss to the St. Jude family,” said actress Marlo Thomas, who is national outreach director for St. Jude’s and whose father, the late entertainer Danny Thomas, founded the pediatric research and treatment center in 1962.

“At his funeral service, his son talked about his humanity and his civility, and it’s true; he was a real gentleman,” Thomas said of Mr. Sarrouf. “He was one of those people who in the middle of a meeting would say our behavior wasn’t up to standard or we were getting off mission. Everybody absolutely folded when he talked that way because he was coming from such a civil place. And he never raised his voice — you had to lean in to hear him.”

Mr. Sarrouf, “was bigger than life. He didn’t like the attention being on him, but he was bigger than life,” said Richard Shadyac Jr., chief executive of ALSAC, the fund-raising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“Camille was the voice for the voiceless, and I think about that a lot,” Shadyac said. “I know Camille took great pride in being a champion for the underdog. He was that voice for people who were less empowered.”

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The older of two sons, Camille Francis Sarrouf was born and grew up in North Adams. His parents, Toufic Kahlil and Leza Sarrouf, were Lebanese immigrants, and his father ran a small grocery store, often working from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.

“My father said, ‘After school, when the other kids went to play, I brought my father lunch, and my job was to run the register while he ate,’ ” said Mr. Sarrouf’s son Camille Jr. of North Andover.

Mr. Sarrouf graduated from Drury High School in North Adams, spent a post-graduate year at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Wilbraham, and then attended Bowdoin College in Maine, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

While serving in the Army, Mr. Sarrouf was stationed in Texas. Remaining there to take advantage of the low in-state tuition, he graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1960.

That year he met Joyce Rahal at a cousin’s wedding, and they married in 1961. Mr. Sarrouf referred to her as “the best woman in the world,” Camille Jr. said in a eulogy at his father’s funeral.

“If ever we complimented him on something we had learned from him, he would credit her: ‘Your mother gets the credit for that,’ ” Camille Jr. said.

Early in Mr. Sarrouf’s career, he worked with renowned personal injury attorney Abner Sisson, before opening his own practice.

“A number of times I’ve tried to have conversations with him about the business of the office,” said Camille Jr., who worked with his father and recalled in an interview that those “business” discussions “usually lasted 15 seconds. He said, ‘This is a profession. We’re here to help people. And if you want to go into business, then you have to go into a different line of work.’ ”

Healy said Mr. Sarrouf believed that “the law was something to be revered and something to be practiced wisely.”

“He saw the field as a true profession,” Healy added. “Not a business, but as an art to be practiced, and to be practiced with restraint and only used forcefully when necessary.”

A service has been held for Mr. Sarrouf, who in addition to his wife, Joyce, and son Camille Jr. leaves a daughter, Leza of Watertown; two other sons, Thomas of Worcester and John of Gloucester; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Sarrouf also was an adjunct professor for nearly two decades at New England School of Law, which awarded him an honorary doctorate. His many posts included serving on the board of the Kahlil Gibran Foundation. Pope Paul VI awarded Mr. Sarrouf a Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a decoration of honor for distinguished service to the church by lay people.

Throughout Mr. Sarrouf’s legal career “he was a storyteller at heart,” Camille Jr. said in his eulogy.

“A case to him was more than a bundle of evidence. It was someone’s story threaded with details of their hopes and loves and losses, a story about something that should not have happened,” he added. “It was never about the tabulation of bills, it was about the loss of something more fundamental than that, and so even when people lost a case they felt honored and heard by him. Even if the jury or the judge didn’t agree, they felt seen by him.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.