WMU-Cooley Law School founder, former Supreme Court Justice Thomas E. Brennan Sr. dies at age 89


The Hon. Thomas E. Brennan, Sr. died Sept. 29 at the age of 89. A Funeral Mass was held Oct. 4.

Born on May 27, 1929 in Detroit, 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 Pauline Mary (Polly) Weinberger, with whom he had six children.

Brennan 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 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, he 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 that inspired his vision for a new, non-profit law school in Lansing. He 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. Cooley Law School’s founding president until 1975, Brennan also served as its first dean until 1978, when he again became president, holding office for 23 more years.

Brennan designed and instituted numerous innovations, including the law school’s year-round schedule. He is credited with founding the Cooley Legal Authors Society, the Student Bar Association, the Scholastic Review Board and the Cooley Law Review. He also composed the law school’s alma mater.

Brennan ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senator from Michigan in 1976, and for Lieutenant Governor  in 1982. He retired from Cooley Law School in 2002. The Thomas E. Brennan Law Library in Lansing is named in his honor.

Brennan authored a self-published novel, “The Bench;”  a memoir, “Starting a Law School”; a book, “The Article V Amendatory Constitutional Convention: Keeping the Republic in the Twenty-First Century”; and a blog, “oldjudgesays.”.

“I can only say how lucky and blessed I was to have had the mentorship and encouragement of one of the greatest men that I have ever known,” said WMU?Cooley Law board Chair Lawrence Nolan,  and recent president of the State Bar of Michigan.

“Those of us who knew Judge Brennan understood that there were no limits to his dreams. His dreams became our dreams. His dreams made it possible to dream and succeed. Tom’s greatest dreams of living a life that was full of grace, truth, and spiritual beliefs inspired all of us to become better people and live fuller lives.”