Thomas B. Jelliff

Tom Jelliff was one of a kind despite being a twin. Tom was born with his brother Ted in Grand Forks in 1936. Each loved history and were connected at the hip and each married girls named Jan. Tom became an attorney back in 1962 and served as Grand Forks County State’s Attorney during much of the 1970’s, while Ted became a teacher and later director of the Grand Forks Historical Society where he was nicknamed “Mr. Grand Forks” for his knowledge of the city’s history. Tom built models for the museum of historical buildings which had long since departed the Grand Forks skyline. Tom loved tennis, sprint car racing and played a mean set of drums. They each became local legends in their own right.

As for how Tom shaped me, I was right out of law school in 1999 and buying a law firm from Lyle Moe and needed a mentor (and a licensed attorney since my license wouldn’t come in until the fall). Lyle Moe chose was Tom Jelliff. Tom was really a perfect fit. Tom had no document drafting skills and couldn’t administer an office to save his life, which were faults which sadly limited his career and led to the end of his job as State’s Attorney. What Tom did have was trial experience, the man should never have been in an office–he belonged in the courtroom. He had a knack for quick thinking, story-telling and you couldn’t help but want to please him just to hear that infectious laugh. It was a perfect combination. I learned so much about what to say and do in front of a jury, but what he taught me most was how to laugh. We sat for hours in my office as Tom retold old war stories which I relish to this day. In law school, we are taught that law is a serious business–and it is–but Tom taught me that, despite that, you need to laugh at the absurd decisions, crazy clients, and weird scenerios–if you don’t it will eat you alive. It would have, so thank you Tom!

Tom, who was a Type 1 diabetic since his childhood, survivor of a major heart attack (which led to the installation of a pacemaker) and surviving bladder cancer when he died in October, 2003. Tom left behind his wife, Jan, and a son. Given his health issues, it is probably impressive he made it to 67, but still to those who know him it is still a loss and far to soon. Thanks again Tom.