The Honorable Thomas E. Brennan, Sr.
May 27, 1929 — September 29, 2018
Thomas E. Brennan, Sr. died peacefully on September 29, 2018, in Lansing, Michigan surrounded by family. He was 89. The family has shared a funeral program, including the full homily by Rev. Michael Murray and reflection by Thomas E. Brennan, Jr.
Born on May 27, 1929, in Detroit, Michigan, Brennan graduated from Detroit Catholic Central High School, where he excelled in forensics. He attended the University of Detroit and earned a law degree from the University of Detroit Law School in 1952.
In 1951, he married the love of his life, Pauline Mary (Polly) Weinberger, with whom he had six children. Immensely proud of his large Irish Catholic clan, Brennan often involved family in his various professional pursuits, from political campaigns to the inception of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. He was quick to credit Polly’s invaluable support for virtually all of his success.
Even so, success did not come easily in the early years of Brennan’s political career. He failed two attempts as a candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives in 1952 and 1954 and lost to John Dingell, Jr. for the U.S. Representative from Michigan’s 15th congressional district in December 1955.
In 1953, he joined the law firm of Waldron, Brennan, Brennan, and Maher, with whom he worked until 1961 when he was elected to a seat on the Common Pleas Bench. In 1963, he was appointed by Michigan Governor George W. Romney to the Wayne County Circuit Bench, and in 1964 he was elected to that same position.
In 1966, at the urging of Governor Romney, Brennan sought the nomination of the Republican Party as Associate Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. He won the nomination and the election. In 1969 and 1970, Brennan served as Chief Justice, the youngest Justice to serve in that capacity.
While serving on the Bench, Brennan received numerous requests for law school recommendations which inspired his vision for a new, non-profit law school in Lansing, Michigan. Noting that many qualified students were refused law school admission, he was determined to eradicate academic elitism and make legal education accessible to all capable students. Brennan incorporated Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1972 with the belief that “An educated citizenry that understands the law is critical to the strength and progress of the nation.” Brennan left the Supreme Court on December 6, 1973, to dedicate his professional career to the fledgling law school and ensure its success. Brennan served as first Dean of Cooley Law School until 1978, when he became its first president.
Under his magnetic leadership, Cooley Law School grew from its initial class of 76 students to become the largest accredited law school in the nation. Known for ingenuity and perseverance, Brennan designed and instituted numerous unprecedented innovations, including the law school’s year-round schedule that allowed multiple first term classes to start each year. He is credited with founding the Cooley Legal Authors Society, the Student Bar Association, the Scholastic Review Board and the Thomas M. Cooley Law Review. He also composed the law school’s alma mater.
During his tenure at Cooley Law School, Brennan ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senator from Michigan in 1976, and for Lieutenant Governor of Michigan in 1982. Brennan retired from Cooley Law School in 2002. The Thomas E. Brennan Law Library in Lansing is named in his honor.
Combining insight and levity, Brennan was a captivating orator and engaging storyteller. He authored a self-published novel entitled The Benchin 2000, a memoir called Starting a Law School in 2007, a book entitled The Article V Amendatory Constitutional Convention: Keeping the Republic in the Twenty-First Century in 2014, and a blog, oldjudgesays, which ran from 2008 to 2017. New ideas energized Brennan, whether he was striving to establish a United States Constitutional Convention or trying to develop an American Golf League. An avid golfer, Brennan made a hole-in-one on five lucky occasions.
He will be deeply missed by his beloved Polly and their children: Thomas, Jr. (Julie), Margaret (David) Radelet, John (Catherine), William (Lisa), Marybeth (James) Hicks, and Ellen (Peter) Campbell; nineteen grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; siblings Raymond (Loretta) of East Lansing, Michigan, Mary (James) Bernard of Fraser, Colorado, and Sally Giraud of Westland, Michigan, and sister-in-law Patricia Brennan of Rochester Hills, Michigan. He is preceded in death by parents Joseph and Jeannette Brennan and brother, Joseph Terrence, Jr.
A Funeral Mass was held Thursday, October 4, 2018, at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, East Lansing, MI with concelebrants Rev. Michael Murray, Rev. Gary Koenigsknecht, Rev. Msgr. Michael D. Murphy, Rev. Richard Elmer, C.S.B., Rev. John Huber, C.S.B., Ed.D., Rev. Charles Irvin, Rev. Joseph J. Krupp, and Rev. James Mangan officiating. A private interment took place that day at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery, Southfield, MI.