In Memoriam – Jack Fritts

May 06, 2021

We mourn the passing earlier this week of our former chairman and managing partner, John F. (Jack) Fritts. He was 86.

A giant in the New York legal community, Mr. Fritts joined the firm in 1959 following his undergraduate studies at Princeton University and his law degree from Harvard. He became a partner in 1968, and his practice focused on general corporate, securities and commodities matters, as well as corporate representations and business transactions. He served in a number of leadership roles, including head of the corporate department, a member of the Executive Committee, and firm chairman and managing partner. During his time as a firm leader, he was instrumental in the transformation of Cadwalader into a modern, global law firm.

A strong advocate for pro bono work, Mr. Fritts was instrumental in the growth and success of the Food Bank For New York City. He incorporated the Food Bank in 1983 and served in various board roles over the years. In 2018, the Food Bank dedicated its Bronx warehouse in his honor, naming the facility “The Jack Fritts Food Distribution Center.”

He is survived by his wife of over 60 years, Anne, as well as children Katherine, Louise, Jean and Frank. The family is hoping to host a memorial service later this year.

REMEMBERING JACK FRITTS

Some thoughts from former partners, colleagues, clients and, most of all, friends.

Louis Bevilacqua, Senior Counsel
I first met Jack in 1986 as a young lateral candidate and immediately liked him. Over the next 30 years of practicing as his partner, I came to appreciate the characteristics that made Cadwalader a great law firm; those characteristics were part of his DNA.

When I think of Jack, five words immediately come to mind: TEACHER, COUNSELOR, MENTOR, PARTNER and LEADER. Annually, Jack fought to have a couple of first-year associates assigned to him. One or more young partners and associates would constantly be sitting in front of his desk discussing a legal issue or reviewing drafting changes to a corporate document. Jack’s level of analysis went well beyond the need to get the right answer for the client … he loved to TEACH young lawyers the requisite skills to meet the standard necessary to be great at their job. My office was adjacent to his for many years, and I never once heard him raise his voice or speak a harsh word to an associate. But no assignment was complete for Jack without a discussion about creativity and a critical analysis of what could go wrong and what the next steps would be. He loved making young associates better lawyers.

Jack always strived to find the right answer for his clients. He was aggressive when appropriate to be aggressive, and cautious when necessary. When you worked with Jack, you really appreciated the art of being a COUNSELOR. He taught you to thoroughly research the law, but to also find solutions that worked for both parties in a transaction.

Jack took a personal interest in everyone in the Corporate department. He defined the “open door” policy and relished the growth and success of attorneys in his group. After every successful deal, Jack was the first partner to congratulate the team. He encouraged young partners who worked on his client matters and mentored many of us over the years. I became a better lawyer by having access to Jack whenever I had a tough judgment call to make and whenever I had a personal issue to deal with. Whether I was a young partner or the department head, he was always a resource that I could rely on for his judgment and candid advice. He was a PARTNER and MENTOR in the best traditions of the Firm. The loyalty of his clients to him and the Firm was inspiring.

Finally, perhaps his most valuable contribution to Cadwalader was his calm strength and leadership during the years he served in a senior management role. With change and disruption occurring everywhere in the legal industry, Jack’s steady hand as a Firm LEADER gave many of the young partners confidence that Cadwalader history and traditions were secure while we transitioned into a modern, global law firm. He never lost sight of the fact that it was people who made a great law firm, while focusing on the changes that were appropriate to advance the Firm in a changing environment.

The story of Fritts wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the things he loved most. His wife Anne was by his side at every event, and he never stopped bragging about his kids that he was so proud of. And, of course, there was the annual two weeks in the Spring and Fall when he opened and closed his summer camp in Maine. After launching and retrieving boats and floating docks, he limped around the office complaining that he was getting too old. But Jack never got too old.

For decades, Jack acted as our toastmaster in all corporate and Firm events. Let me offer a virtual toast to Jack Fritts for making many of us better lawyers and partners and for making the Firm a better place to work for over 50 years. 

Michael Gambro, Management Committee Member, Co-Chair, Capital Markets Practice
Jack was a consummate corporate lawyer who could work on any matter for any client, as well as a leader who led by example. He was very smart but also down to earth, which made him highly respected as a lawyer and highly regarded as a colleague, partner, mentor and friend. He will be greatly missed.

Terry Gilheany, Consulting Attorney and Former Partner
In my almost 60 years with Cadwalader, I have never known a better lawyer, or one so completely dedicated to the Firm as an institution, than Jack Fritts. Jack’s commitment to the best interests of the Firm, its clients, and his colleagues was total and unqualified. His candor and integrity were absolute. I have felt proud and fortunate to have spent my whole professional life, and nearly three-quarters of my entire life, with Cadwalader. That pride and good fortune are due in no small part to Jack Fritts.

An anecdote: Years ago, because of our admiration for and confidence in Jack and his wife Anne, we sent our young daughter to the summer camp in Maine that had been run for many years by Anne’s family, aided in those years by Jack. During our daughter’s first phone call home, I asked her if she had met Mr. Fritts. She said she didn’t think so. I said, “Well, have you seen someone around who looks sort of like an escaped bear?” “Oh!” replied our daughter. “Him!”

How lucky we at Cadwalader were to have had that bear in our camp!

Anna Glick, Senior Counsel
Jack was the most unusual “Wall Street lawyer” one could ever meet.

Despite his sometimes gruff exterior, it didn’t take long to realize he was exceptionally kind, creative, honest and thoughtful, with a bizarre sense of humor. No one else could make me laugh until tears rolled down my face, and I am both laughing and crying now thinking back on how much I learned from him and how much I enjoyed our many memorable times together.

As a brilliant lawyer, one of his greatest pleasures was fooling his adversaries into letting down their guard with his casual, easy-going demeanor, and then making it clear who was the real lawyer in the room. He worked harder than just about anyone I knew, and he somehow produced the right approach to any problem – in his own modest way, he cut down all his opponents by several feet. I loved watching him in action – there was always a lesson to be learned by those who knew how special he was.

If you knew Jack, you will never forget him. I know I never will.

Robert Lawrence, Senior Counsel
I am deeply saddened by Jack’s passing, but I know he is in a better place. He was a tireless worker who was always willing to assist a colleague as well as a consummate lawyer – one of the absolute best with whom I have worked over these many years.

Dorothy Mehta, Partner
My first transaction, my first closing, my first client meeting was with Jack in the fall of 2004. From that singular experience, I learned what it meant to be a lawyer. It is more than paper pushing (although we could all remember the piles upon piles of documents in Jack’s office that were tall enough to hide even him!) or just getting the deal done. Jack listened. He absorbed every facet of that transaction while at the same time having a deep understanding of the entirety of the client’s business. A client was not about one deal or one matter. A client should be viewed holistically as a long-standing relationship, and an attorney should be viewed as a confidante, a trusted advisor, and a friend. To Jack’s credit, that client he introduced me to in 2004 is still my client today. To my benefit, Jack was my friend.

William Mills, Corporate Group Co-Chair
During my first week at the Firm, Jack took each new corporate associate to lunch. These were individual lunches and most of us were apprehensive about the thought of a one-on-one lunch with the head of the corporate department. It couldn’t have gone more smoothly or been more helpful as an introduction to Cadwalader, its history and the practice of corporate law. But more importantly, Jack conveyed his interest in working with us as individuals and mentoring us in our career development. Jack’s practice was extensive and broad and, while he could be demanding, those who worked with him learned immeasurably from his intellect and breadth of knowledge. In the years since, I got to know Jack well, worked with him, and always found him to be a tremendous resource for complex issues. His commitment to the Firm and its clients made a lasting impression on me and taught me what being a great partner is all about.

Greg Petrick, Management Committee Member, London Managing Partner
Some of us called him “Jack.” Most of us simply used “Fritts.”

Jack (or Fritts) was a true role model for generations of Cadwalader lawyers and staff. Cadwalader and the interests of the firm’s clients were always paramount in his words and deeds. He carried forth the best interests of the firm he truly beloved without ego, with humor and the unanimous admiration of his partners. Every partner to the person recognized Jack for his leadership, commitment to Cadwalader and his friendship. 

Jack was a bear of a man, with an omnipresent cigar, shirt unbuttoned at the top and often untucked at the waist line, tie loosened to mid chest, eye glasses slightly askew. He cut an indelible, slightly intimidating image of a Wall Street lawyer gone over the edge to get the deal completed. Over a storied nearly 60-year career, he taught young lawyers drafting contracts (“that’s what we do”) to “represent, warrant and covenant “ with unsurpassed scrivenership prided on the principle of not one extra word where none is required.  

In the mid-1970s, Jack even led an early incarnation of our London office. His advice and guidance shapes our vibrant and growing London office today. 

Far away from the hustle and bustle of the New York office, many generations of Cadwalader daughters summered at Camp Arcadia located in Casco, Maine, which has been run by Jack’s wife Anne’s family since 1916 and is now overseen by their daughter Louise. Jack was a visible presence at Camp Arcadia, attempting unsuccessful managerial oversight when he was not jogging around Lake Pleasant or chopping wood. 

Jack is a giant in the lore and history of Cadwalader. He is a credit to our firm. It was an honor to be his partner. And, most importantly above all, I remember him as the good person he was. 

Pat Quinn, Managing Partner
Jack Fritts was a lawyer’s lawyer – a brilliant thinker, a tireless worker and a powerful advocate for his clients. Generations at our firm learned to be better lawyers by working with Jack. We were fortunate to have him as our colleague for more than 50 years, including a period as our firm chairman. He truly helped to shape the firm we are today.

One of Jack’s greatest legacies is his work on behalf of the Food Bank For New York City, which he helped to form in 1983 as pro bono counsel to the organization. He maintained an ongoing commitment to the Food Bank’s mission of assisting the food-insecure in our city, serving as a Food Bank board member for many years. That was the Jack that I was fortunate to know. He was as great a man as he was a lawyer, and that is saying quite a lot. Our industry, our firm and our city lost a true giant this week.  

Lary Stromfeld, Management Committee Member
Jack was a big man – in every sense of the word. He had a towering presence, a booming voice, a colorful vocabulary, a creative mind, a strong will, a sharp wit and a generous heart. There was no one he couldn’t win over through intimidation, reason or charm.

From the moment I joined Cadwalader and moved into the associate office next to him 32 years ago, he inspired me with his lawyering skills and his dedication to Food Bank For New York City. I am proud to continue his tradition of leading Cadwalader’s support of Food Bank since he organized it nearly four decades ago.

Malcolm Wattman, Former Partner
Jack was a young, first-year partner when I was a first-year associate. We both lived in Morris County in western New Jersey, a rather long commute to New York City, and generally, we took the same train every morning, Jack getting on two stops after me. He would immediately open his briefcase and start working, and as time went on, he became a mentor to me. I worked primarily for other partners (William Clarke and Rodney Dayan), but Jack would give me assignments and the train ride gave us adequate time (nearly one hour to Hoboken) to talk about his (always extensive) markup of my documents. Jack had the Blue Book memorized and was a stickler for grammar. 

Jack was the consummate business lawyer – the lawyer you wanted to draft your contracts and negotiate your deals. He was smart, had a strong business sense and a common-sense approach to problems and opportunities. He was extremely loyal to his clients and they to him, some long into retirement. Jack was always there to advise and help, and he was always admired by his partners, even during challenging times. He was never interested in power, but when leadership was needed, Jack would be the first to be called. In the stodgy old days when no one would venture into the hallways at One Wall Street without a jacket, Jack was the lawyer who broke the ice, much to the chagrin of our long-time receptionist. 

Jack liked to do everything for himself. We had lots of snow where we lived in New Jersey, so while everyone had a contractor to plow driveways, Jack had an old truck with a blade on it and did his own. He even cut a deal with me one summer where, if I maintained his pool, I could use it. 

Jack's wife owns a girls' summer camp in Maine that had been in her family for at least the prior generation. He spent every weekend from late spring to early fall helping to open and close the camp and to play "Uncle Jack" in Maine. He had a substantial fear of flying (which he eventually overcame when he opened our London office many years later), so he got to Maine by taking a train to Boston every Friday evening and taking a bus to Arcadia and reversing the process every Sunday or Monday morning.

Jack devoted much of his time and energy to charitable causes. He became involved with a charity called Barrier Free Living in NYC, which ran the only homeless shelter in NYC accessible to the disabled and a domestic violence program for disabled women. He did all of their extensive legal work for many years and chaired the board. At one point, his daughter wanted to join the board, but the organization did not want two people from the same family on the board, so he asked me to take his place. I did so. A few months later, his daughter announced she was pregnant and living in Connecticut, and this was too much for her so she resigned. Thirty years later, I am still on the board and serving as Treasurer, and I think of Jack – and his work with this organization and especially with the Food Bank For New York City – in everything I do.

Henry A. Belin III, Board Secretary, Food Bank For New York City
"Jack," as he was affectionately called, helped set up the Food Bank over 35 years ago by drafting its bylaws and filing for its incorporation. Jack loved his work with the Food Bank and utilized his skills, resources and contacts to help The Food Bank For New York City to become what it is today. He served as Board secretary, Nominating Committee chair, Governance committee chair, and on several other Board committees over the years. 

Jack Fritts was a witty, colorful guy who had the ability to inspire those whom he met. Indeed, we are beneficiaries of years of exceptional pro bono Legal work from Cadwalader due to his inspiration, and his leadership spread to members of his firm, who continue to serve us to this present day.

Jon Spencer, President, Gresham Investment Management
Everyone has a great Jack story. At one point, we were putting together talking points for our first commodity fund. Jack balked at our description of Henry Jarecki (Jack’s longstanding client) as a pioneer of the futures markets: “What makes Henry a pioneer?” We responded that he met all of the criteria. Jack responded with an expansive, “No he doesn’t.” Somewhat frustrated, we asked Jack if he would consider the Wright brothers pioneers of flight. He responded, “Wilbur maybe, definitely not the other guy.”