One of Miami’s legal lions, C. Thomas Tew Jr. — whose personal passions were his family, Miami Hurricanes football, and helping ordinary people behind the scenes — died Monday night after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Tew, known as “Tom” to everyone, started his legal career in a tiny Biscayne Boulevard office with his mother as his secretary and capped it with a boutique law firm in the Four Seasons Tower on tony Brickell Avenue.
Dozens of attorneys, judges, friends, and family members visited the 73-year-old lawyer at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to bid last good-byes and thank him for how he had touched their lives.
“It was beautiful because he could hear everything,” his daughter, Kristina Tew, said Tuesday. “He loved helping people.”
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“He was one of the most respected attorneys in Miami and outside of Miami,” said auto magnate Norman Braman, who helped Tew receive cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
“But he was more than just a wonderful lawyer, he was a wonderful person. He treated everyone the same, no matter who they were.”
Tew, born in Gainesville in 1940 while his father attended the University of Florida, moved with his family to Miami during World War II. Tew, brother Jeffrey, and sister Laura were raised in the Allapattah and Coral Gables areas.
While their father worked as an insurance salesman, their mother took a job as a secretary at the Cushman School off Biscayne Boulevard so the children could attend private school during their elementary years.
Jeffrey Tew, a partner in his brother’s law firm, said Tom excelled at Coral Gables High School and played receiver on the football team. The head coach, who had been an assistant at Yale University, suggested he apply to Ivy League schools because of his high grades.
He was accepted at Dartmouth College. Tew later graduated from the University of Miami School of Law, where he was No. 1 in his class and the editor of the law review. He also served in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, where he met future Miami federal judge Jose Martinez.
When he left, Tew joined one of Miami’s largest law firms, Shutts & Bowen. But he lasted only one year.
“Tom liked to be his own boss,” said Jeffrey Tew, who followed in his older brother’s footsteps at Dartmouth and UM law. “He saw what Miami was becoming as a city and the opportunities in corporate, securities, and bankruptcy law.”
As Miami turned into an international business hub, Tew earned a reputation as one of the city’s top civil lawyers. He advised an array of South Florida banks and corporations on mergers and bankruptcies.
He also specialized in securities law, representing flamboyant entrepreneurs involved in two of Florida’s most spectacular bankruptcies: the International Gold Bullion Exchange of brothers James and William Alderice and Colombian coffee trader Alberto Duque.
Tew also served as the bankruptcy trustee in the high-profile ESM Government Securities fraud case.
After working as partners with some of Miami’s most prominent lawyers, Tew started his last law firm in 1991 with Al Cardenas, a well-connected figure in the Florida Republican Party.
At Tew Cardenas, Tew played the role of rainmaker, mainly attracting clients in the banking industry, such as Bank United. They were experiencing upheaval as regional banks with national ambitions gobbled up longtime local banks. He also advised the city of Miami during its financial troubles with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
For his part, Cardenas was a mover and shaker in government circles, from Tallahassee to Washington. Cardenas, who also started a separate lobbying business, would serve as chairman of the Florida Republican Party during part of Jeb Bush’s tenure as governor.
Cardenas described Tew as a “true friend” whom he had known for a decade before they formed the law firm together. He said that, even after he was diagnosed with cancer last year, his idea of slowing down was to come into the office every day. “His first love was practicing law,” Cardenas said.
Tew Cardenas thrived locally, most recently representing clients such as U.S. Century Bank and the accounting firm Morrison Brown. It also cultivated Latin American clients, such as Venezuelans, who have business and other investments in South Florida.
Newspaper and TV reporters often sought out Tew’s comments for stories because of his legal expertise and ability to explain complex financial matters in layman’s terms.
In recent years, Tew, an avid golfer, turned his attention to boxing. He renovated a row of storefront buildings on Biscayne Boulevard and opened a gym called Biscayne Boxing, located across the street from Jimmy’s Diner.
Tew, a UM football booster, helped establish the university’s boxing club and provided his gym as a place for boxers to train.
Tew’s brother, Jeffrey, said that Tom liked to give back to the community but in his own private way, one person at a time. He recalled the day his older brother received a letter from a Miami woman who had just graduated from New York University School of Medicine.
He said Tom had met her when she was working as a waitress and was struck by her drive to further her education. He volunteered to help pay her college and medical-school tuition.
“He was a no-nonsense guy in the business world, but was very soft-hearted with people who needed help and wanted to get ahead,” Jeffrey Tew said. “Few people knew that about him.”
Tew is predeceased by his father, Cornelius “Cotton” Tew; and survived by his mother, Mamie O. Tew; daughter Kristina Tew; her mother, Donna Tew; his brother Jeffrey Tew; his sister Laura Mamie Tew Drury; his nephew Spencer Tew; and his partner, Marta Alfonso.