Thomas Robert Cornish, retired United States Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, died February 2, 2022. Tom served the Tenth Circuit with distinction from 1994 until his retirement September 1, 2021. He leaves behind a family who loves him, friends who cherish him, lawyers who respect and admire him, and a career that has made a big, big difference.
Tom was born on August 22, 1944 in Ft. Worth, TX, the third son of Rita Pool Cornish and William A. Cornish, then serving in the US Army Air Corps. He attended St. John’s Primary School, McAlester; St. Gregory High School, Shawnee; and completed his undergraduate studies at Oklahoma State University, earning a BS in Commerce in 1966. Tom received his JD from the University of Oklahoma in 1968.
After completing his law studies, he served as an attorney in the Department of Institutions, Social Services and Rehabilitation. Tom Cornish was a municipal prosecutor for the town of McAlester and vice-chairman of the Crime Commission’s Juvenile Delinquency Committee. He was also a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s courtroom media committee.
Always gifted, Tom was appointed to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in October 1977 at the age of 33, making him the youngest appointee in that Court’s history. Tom was retained in 1978 for a full six-year term and served as presiding judge. During his tenure on the court, he served as a special judge of the Oklahoma Supreme Court and a judge of the Court’s Appellate Division on the Judiciary. Still a student, Tom earned a master’s degree in law from the University of Virginia in 1982. He continued to serve the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals with distinction until 1984, when he returned to practice. private in Oklahoma City. His exemplary service to the Court of Criminal Appeal was just the beginning.
On February 7, 1994, Tom was appointed to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. When the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals formed a Bankruptcy Appeals Board in 1996, they chose Tom as a founding member. He served on this committee until his retirement. This court hears most appeals from eight bankruptcy courts in the six states that make up the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Tom has served the BAP in various capacities. including the Chief Justice, until retirement. Tom has also served on various BAP, state and federal committees, and has been a speaker at educational programs across the country. He presided over his share of cases big and small, never forgetting that these “small” cases were all but for the people standing before him, faced with the prospect of losing a home, a car or even a way of life. . Tom’s kindness and judicial temper were legendary.
Tom has also served as a mediator in each of Oklahoma’s three federal judicial districts. He was well known for volunteering to handle cases in numerous bankruptcy courts with overburdened cases across the United States. Tom has served on the Board of Governors of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges and its Committee on International Relations, Elections and Site Selection. He attended the Sir Richard May Seminar on International Law and International Tribunals in The Hague, Netherlands. Tom was nominated and selected to participate in this seminar based on his extensive experience in international relations, as well as the diversity of his experience as a judge and private lawyer.
Tom Cornish has served as a leader of various committees and organizations, including the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary, Chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Reform of State Government in Oklahoma, Chairman of the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority, Juvenile Delinquency Committee of the Oklahoma Crime Commission, the Board of Governors of the Oklahoma Bar Association, and the Board and Trustees of St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.
Tom has traveled extensively, visiting all seven continents of the world. He participated in many events as a guest of foreign judges and traveled with a delegation of judges and lawyers to the Soviet Union to observe its legal system. His court also assisted the US District Court when it hosted a delegation of Russian judges observing US court operations. During several of his personal trips abroad, he visited various courthouses and observed foreign court proceedings.
Much of Tom’s successful legal experience was due to his team/family. He has also enjoyed many fun trips at home and abroad that have included Gayle since their marriage, which has brought both much joy and love.
Despite all his accomplishments, Tom’s true legacy is found in the lives of those privileged to know him. It’s a worn (maybe even worn) cliche, but when it comes to Tom Cornish, it’s the truth: Tom has never met a stranger. He was always welcoming, open and ready to reach out. Did you have to gather 100 people who knew Tom Cornish in one room and ask them “How many of you considered Tom Cornish a close friend?” at least 99 hands would go up (sorry, Tom, nobody’s perfect). If you were Tom’s friend, he went out of his way to make a difference in your life. Plus, he’s done the same for people he’s never met. We have suffered a great loss and will never see his kind again.
Many would never have guessed that Tom could be happy for so long as a resident of Okmulgee, but it was there that he made some strong friendships with neighbors, firefighters, cleaners, vets and dads. other dog lovers. During all his years at Okmulgee, Tom usually had no less than four rescue dogs roaming the house and large back yard of Tom’s Dog Heaven. There are now three adorable dogs waiting for new homes.
Tom was a benefactor member of his Uganda Martyrs Catholic Church. It is this diverse parish that has motivated and symbolized Tom’s helping hand to so many in need. His story cannot end without talking about Tom the fisherman, near and far, rafting and, yes, he has covered many miles on his beautiful turquoise Harley Davidson. Someone said Tom did all the fun and meaningful stuff before he retired.
Tom is survived by his wife, Gayle Freeman Cornish; his daughter Tricia Cornish Meeks and her husband Darren; son, Abe Cornish, and wife Connie; brother Fred Cornish and wife Lee, sister Cloyd Cornish; nephews, William and Richard Cornish and wife of Richard Ginger; nieces, Christina, Claire and her husbands Joel and Elizabeth, as well as grandson Nolan Meeks and his wife Collette, and their children Garret and Lilyette, and over one hundred Pool Family members and cousins of Cornwall from his mother. His parents, William and Rita Pool Cornish; brothers, William M. and Richard P. (“Whitey”) Cornish, and his son Abe’s biological mother, Katherine Bartlett Cornish, to whom Tom had been married for eight years, all predeceased him.
There will be a private family cemetery service in Tom’s honor in McAlester, Oklahoma. A celebration of his life will take place later and will be announced. Memorials in Tom’s name may be made at St. Gregory’s Abbey, Shawnee, Oklahoma, at the Uganda Martyrs Catholic Church, Okmulgee, Oklahoma, at Free to Live in Oklahoma City, or at an organization charity of your choice.
Published by Tulsa World on February 13, 2022.