Larger Than Life
Remembering Tommy Malone
Published in 2020 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine
on March 1, 2020
Updated on March 4, 2020
I first talked with Tommy Malone by phone. It was 2010 and I was headed to Atlanta for a Super Lawyers reception. He was the No. 1-ranked attorney in Georgia that year—a position he held for nine consecutive years—so I sent him an email saying I would welcome the opportunity to meet him in person.
Within minutes, my phone rang. It was Tommy. He told me that unfortunately he was not going to be in Atlanta on the date of the reception and after some conversation I assured him we would connect another time. Tommy then paused, and asked if it would be OK if he put me on hold for a minute. When he got back on, he said: “My Momma would roll over in her grave if she knew you named me the number-one lawyer in Georgia and I didn’t come to your party.”
We met at baggage claim and then spent the next six hours becoming friends. Meeting with attorneys is part of my job, but with Tommy it never felt like a job.
In Albany, where he grew up, Tommy had been a rodeo cowboy and he never lost his roots. I once watched him lasso his boat to a dock piling. The smile on his face after he nailed it was pure joy. As a young lawyer, Tommy tried cases in south Georgia that no other lawyers would touch. He believed he was meant to make a difference and he made it happen.
John C. Bell Jr. at Bell & Brigham says he lived life large. “He always endeavored to catch the largest fish, and often he did just that—just as his verdicts and recoveries for his clients dwarfed those gained by many very talented trial lawyers,” Bell says. “He lived large in his giving, too. Tommy just had to be the one to pick up the dinner check. … And I knew that if I ever really needed Tommy he would be there for me whatever the reason.”
Tracey Dellacona felt the same. “You could count on [Tommy],” she says. “To me, that is the greatest attribute a person can have.” She has her own fishing story: “Tommy loved to deep-sea fish, and one trip to his beloved Marsh Harbor, a number of us went fishing. Several folks got sea sick but I had a blast. The next day Tommy asked who wanted to go fishing again; Jimmy Hurt and I jumped at the opportunity but no one else. I told Tommy it was fine—I had learned from the captain how much it cost to run that boat. Tommy looked at me, with that shock of grey hair falling over his forehead, and said, ‘Do you want to go fishing?’ I said yes. ‘So do I! Let’s go!’
“I guess it is a Southern thing,” she adds, “but you know how much a man is loved when you hear his children lovingly call him ‘Daddy,’ no matter their age or station. Hearing Adam call Tommy ‘Daddy’ always made my heart smile. Tommy made my heart smile and he still does.”
I recently caught up with Adam Malone and he shared with me his dad’s last joke. It was two days before Tommy passed and the room was full of people. His voice was growing faint. Everyone drew near.
“There was a man on his death bed,” Tommy began. “His wife was by his side and the room was full of his admirers. He and his wife had four children total—three with blond hair and one dark brown. He looked at his wife and said, ‘Honey, before I die, I just have to know one thing.’ ‘Sure my beloved husband, anything. What is it?’ He asked, ‘I just have to know—is the son with the dark hair really mine?” She immediately replied: ‘Yes! Of course he is!’
“At that moment, he took his last breath and died. She looked up and said, ‘Thank God he didn’t ask me about the other three!’”
I’m blessed, as are many of you, to have known this larger-than-life man.