Judge Thomas M. Reavley

June 21, 1921December 1, 2020

Federal Circuit Judge Thomas Morrow Reavley died on Tuesday, the 1st of December 2020, at his home in Houston. He was 99.

A World War II veteran, Judge Reavley had a long and distinguished career in public service, having served as Texas Secretary of State (1955–1957), Texas Supreme Court Justice (1968–1977), and judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (1979–2020). His legal career spanned 72 years.

Born the 21st of June 1921, in Quitman, Texas, to Thomas and Mattie (Morrow) Reavley, he grew up in Nacogdoches, where his parents had a cafe. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1942 and enlisted in the United States Navy, where he served as an officer until his discharge in 1946. He earned his law degree from Harvard in 1948 and served as an assistant district attorney in Dallas and later as Nacogdoches County Attorney. He was a 33rd degree Mason.

Always an active Sunday-school teacher and lay preacher in the United Methodist Church, he spoke out in the late 1940s against racial segregation, even though his stance was unpopular in his native East Texas. At the time, he was engaged in private law practice in Nacogdoches, Lufkin, and Jasper. His outspoken opposition brought him to the attention of Allan Shivers, who in 1955 invited Judge Reavley into his gubernatorial administration and appointed him Secretary of State.

When his Secretary of State appointment expired, Judge Reavley returned to private practice in Jasper and Austin. In 1962 he ran for Attorney General of Texas, and though his campaign was unsuccessful, it brought him to the attention of the newly elected governor, John Connally, who in 1964 appointed him to the 167th District Court of Travis County, Texas.

Judge Reavley was elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1968, serving for nine years. In 1979 he served as a Special Judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals—becoming one of the few judges in Texas history to sit on both state high courts. Later that year, President Jimmy Carter appointed Judge Reavley to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He served as an active judge until 1990, when he took senior status but continued hearing cases for another 29 years. During his early years on the Fifth Circuit, he earned an LL.M. from the University of Virginia. He had four honorary doctoral degrees from universities in Texas and California.

At the time of his death, Judge Reavley was the oldest sitting federal judge in the United States. During his tenure, he had the distinction of sitting as a visiting judge with all the United States Courts of Appeals but one.

Judge Reavley published many legal articles, served as an adjunct professor at The University of Texas School of Law, lectured at the law schools of Baylor, Pepperdine, and Texas Tech, and served on many judicial committees and civic organizations. With 11 other judges and a law professor, he was coauthor of a highly regarded 900-page treatise titled The Law of Judicial Precedent (2016). In the fall of 2016, Baylor Law Review dedicated a volume to Judge Reavley in recognition of his unique contributions to Texas and to American law.

Judge Reavley was a person of great personal integrity, compassion, and magnetism. Wherever he went, with whomever he spoke, he made an impression—whether with his colleagues on the bench, his law clerks, the staff at a restaurant, or beggars on the street (to whom he always showed kindness). He had a well-developed view of the law and its central place in a thriving society. No judge worked harder to master the facts of the cases under decision, and few had the skill to present a decision with so much clarity and candor.

Judge Reavley was married for 60 years to Florence Wilson Reavley, who preceded him in death in 2003. In 2004 he married Carolyn Dineen King, then Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit. They were the only married couple among Article III appellate judges.

Survivors include his wife and four children, Thomas Wilson Reavley, Marian Neevel, Paul Stuart Reavley, and Margaret Currin; four grandchildren, Thomas Montenegro Reavley, Elizabeth Margarita Reavley, Corynn Johanna Roche, and Wilson Patrick Reavley; and four great-grandchildren, Santiago Antonio Campos, Isabel Salome Campos, Vivian Margaret Roche, and Josephine Marian Roche.

A private in person memorial service is to be conducted at eleven o’clock in the morning on Tuesday, the 8th of December. Friends are invited to view the service via a livestream that may be found on his online memorial tribute page at There friends may share memories and offer words of comfort and condolence electronically for the family.

In lieu of customary remembrances, memorial contributions, in memory of Judge Thomas M. Reavley, may be directed toward Baylor College of Medicine, Institutional Advancement and Alumni Affairs, MSC# 800 PO Box 4976, Houston, TX 77210; or to Baylor Law, Attn: Dean Brad Toben, One Bear Place #97288, Waco, TX 76798.


  • Live Stream of Private Memorial Service

    Tuesday, December 8, 2020



Judge Thomas M. Reavley

have a memory or condolence to add?

Desne Crossley

January 5, 2021

My heart goes out to the Reavley family regarding the Homegoing of Judge Tom Reavley. He and I became acquainted through his sister-in-law, Kathryn Dineen Wriston, in 2013.

Kathy often remarked that he was a wonderful man. My own communications with him around that time linger with me. He was so kind and warm. Please accept my deepest sympathy.

Priscilla FOSTER

December 8, 2020

I feel so very fortunate to have known both Tom Reavley and his
wonderful wife and partner, Carolyn, for over ten years ..not through any connection in the law field but in the close connection
of instructor/client as well as close neighbors. So often I would pass by on my bike and just drop in for a chat or to share a new recipe.
Until recently, Tom was always dapper in his hand tailored shirts and spiffy suspenders. His sense of humor was contagious and he somehow always turned his attention away from himself. He had an impish delight in a pretty "girl" as he put it; however, he always bragged on "the girl" he married...Carolyn. with love, Pris Foster

Philip Bentlif

December 8, 2020

RIP Gentle Knight. A long and extraordinarily distinguished life comes to an end. What a privilege for Wendy and me to have known Tom.
Our deepest condolences to you, Carolyn and to all family members and colleagues.

Philip and Wendy

Justin Pfeiffer

December 7, 2020

My deepest condolences to Judge King, Judge Reavley's family, all of his law clerks and staff. Though more than a decade has passed, I fondly remember Judge Reavley for his kind comments on my first bench memorandum as a law clerk to now-Chief Judge Owen. It was extremely gracious of him to pay the personal compliment, but he was an extremely gracious person. Like Judge Garwood, who left us too soon, we are all privileged to have known this example of genteelness---a gentlemen from another era but worthy of emulation for all in this profession.

Rick Byrd

December 7, 2020

While today is full of sorrow, tomorrow we celebrate the life of a husband, father, grandfather, uncle, an exceptional jurist, public servant, colleague, mentor and good friend.

As a “Reavley clerk” during 1980-81, I recall the respect with which Judge Reavley treated everyone -- his law clerks, litigants (including criminal defendants & prison inmates), attorneys, fellow judges, court personnel, FBI agents, and all those whom he encountered. The Judge instilled in us the importance of treating everyone with kindness, respect and dignity, including judges, attorneys, cab drivers, doormen, and waitresses and waiters. We learned to tip generously from Judge’s example – vividly recalling his experience of working in “Reavley’s Lunch Room” during the Great Depression.

In 1985 the Judge performed the wedding ceremony for my wife Leslie and me in San Antonio. Although I was not Jewish, Leslie wanted a religious Jewish ceremony. She approached her rabbi, but he would not officiate interfaith marriages. We were so honored when Judge agreed to marry us. So Judge (a prominent, national Methodist lay leader) officiated at our civil/Jewish wedding ceremony, with my wife’s maternal grandfather (an Orthodox Jew) reading our ketubbah (marriage contract) and providing traditional Jewish blessings. Some years later re-reading the wedding ceremony book that Judge gave us, we discovered this hand-written note from him: “This is a lovely way to begin a long and happy life together.” A few years ago, Judge quipped that he “must have done a pretty good job with the wedding ceremony, since our marriage obviously took.”

Whenever I think about the thirteen months I spent as Judge Reavley’s law clerk, I have to smile. I will always appreciate the Judge’s guidance, wisdom and friendship more than words can express. May his memory be a blessing. Felicitations and rest in peace “my favorite Judge.”

Stephen Higginson

December 3, 2020

I will keep Tom close to my heart for many reasons others will describe better having enjoyed more time in his century-long embrace. What I appreciate above all is that he unfailingly encouraged me as a new judge on his court, regardless of case or issue or agreement. His twinkle and brilliance and friendship all aimed at one point, encouraging me to do my best. I will remember him as the embodiment of Truman Capote's observation, "Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot." Tom was indomitable, inimitable and surpassing yet somehow he made me feel engaged with him as a cherished friend and equal. What rare and kind generosity.