Black St. Louis legal pioneer Larry L. Deskins was overlooked somewhat in his passing, because he transitioned the day before the St. Louis region went under stay-at-home public health orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has since claimed the lives of almost 400 people in St. Louis city and county. Deskins died Sunday, March 22 at age 68 after a long illness.
But he definitely was noticed – and did not miss much – while he was alive.
Deskins was one of the first African-American lawyers hired by any major St. Louis law firm when he joined Lewis Rice right out of Washington University Law School in 1977. He became the first African-American partner of any major St. Louis law firm when he was elevated by the firm in 1985.
He brought others up along with him. Ronald Norwood, now a member at Lewis Rice, worked with the firm as a summer intern during the summer of 1985. “Larry took me under his wing, providing advice and counsel on how to navigate the challenges of being a minority attorney in a majority firm and exposing me to his broad-based business clientele,” Norwood said.
That powerful nurturing relationship grew when Norwood joined the firm as a litigation associate in 1988. “It was through that strong mentorship, which evolved into a close personal friendship, that I was able to navigate my way as Lewis Rice’s second African-American equity partner and first African-American equity partner in the litigation group,” Norwood said.
Deskins remained with the firm for more than 40 years. His transactional practice encompassed representation of corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, individuals, and others across a broad range of industries.
“Larry was recognized as one of the top ‘go-to’ corporate attorneys in St. Louis, servicing leading banking institutions, casino gaming operations, public school districts, and small and large business entrepreneurs,” Norwood said.
Norwood credited Deskins with “saving the City of East St. Louis from what could have been financial ruin” in 1993 when he served as lead counsel in the city’s Financial Advisory Authority’s debt restructuring.
“Larry crafted and implemented a plan that allowed the City of East St. Louis to resolve over 800 claims, totaling nearly $80 million, and facilitated the City of East St. Louis obtaining clean, audited financial statements for years to come,” said Norwood, who worked on the case.
Lewis Rice Chairman Thomas C. Erb practiced side-by-side with Deskin for over 40 years.
“Larry was a consummate corporate lawyer and professional,” Erb said. “His advice to our clients was strategic, while at the same time practical. He was a visionary, yet always grounded by his no-nonsense attitude. Larry possessed an exceptional legal mind and was fully committed to civic engagement.”
That civic engagement included the Golf Foundation of Missouri; Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Inc., ETA Chapter; the National Association of Guardsmen, St. Louis Chapter; and the Eliot Society of Washington University in St. Louis. He served on the boards of the St. Louis Regional Convention & Sports Complex Authority, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Youth Center Foundation and Girls, Incorporated.
Two of his many honors were Mound City Bar Association’s 2016 Legal Legend Award and Washington University’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award.
In addition to a legal icon and community problem-solver, Deskins also was both a committed family man and a world-traveling and stylish bon vivant, both martial artist and wine connoisseur.
While in school he met and married the late Angela Knight, and through that union three children were born: their daughter Maya Deskins and sons Larry Deskins Jr. and Logan Deskins. “He lived well and always gave us a reason to be proud of who we are,” said Logan Deskins, his youngest son. “He will be missed in many ways.”
Living well and instilling pride were qualities also remembered by Jaedon Deskins, his eldest grandchild.
“Larry Deskins was a man that accepted a challenge and found the solution, even if that meant creating it himself,” Jaedon Deskins said. “He was a man that cared, and loved. He was a man that corrected and advised. If you were really lucky, you’d know he was smooth with his tango dancing too.”
Deskins was known and loved throughout Black St. Louis and is mourned by many prominent citizens. The musical legend Denise Thimes remembered him as “an amazing man, an impeccable lawyer, a doting father and an incredible friend. I will miss him dearly.”
His life partner Patricia (Teesha) Hernandez summed him up in words that encompassed all who loved him and whom he loved. “The man I loved was a family man with heart,” Hernandez said. “He would do anything for us and for his friends. He was a strong man with strong values. His life ignited life in us. We will miss him.”
Larry L. Deskins is survived by his life partner, Patricia (Teesha) Hernandez; daughter Maya Deskins; sons Larry Deskins Jr. and Logan Deskins; and four grandchildren. He is also survived by his loving mother, Barbara L. Deskins; aunt, Barbara S. Deskins; brothers David Deskins (Doll) and Robert Deskins; sisters Louise Trammell, Sherri Harris and Peggy Ford; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and Ashly Johnson.
Condolences and cards may be sent to the family at: Patricia (Teesha) Hernandez, 27 Washington Terrace, St. Louis, MO 63112. In lieu of ﬂowers donations can be sent to: Golf Foundation of Missouri, P.O. Box 22001, St. Louis, MO 63126.