Christ the King Award Recipient for 2016:
Thomas Brandi, Esq. ’63
Tom Brandi with his family.
St. Ignatius College Preparatory presents the 2016 Christ the King Award to Thomas J. Brandi ‘63:
In the book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcom Gladwell writes, “Much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of one-sided conflicts. This phenomenon occurs because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.”
Today, we honor Thomas J. Brandi ’63 as the recipient of The Christ the King Award, the Alumni Association of Saint Ignatius College Preparatory’s highest honor. And so we set aside a few moments on this Sunday to pay tribute to the scrappy kid from the Sunset, who has led a life battling giants and has, indeed, produced his own brand of greatness and beauty in the world.
Tom’s greatness comes from his work ethic and his tenacity. As his longtime friend, Mark Allan, puts it, “Tom’s a bulldog. He played ball like a bulldog, and he works like a bulldog.” Mark goes on to say, almost in wonder, “I don’t even know when the guy sleeps. He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever met, and there’s nobody I admire more.”
On the other hand, Tom’s beauty comes from his courage and his compassion. He has made a career out of standing up to the powerful and looking out for the disadvantaged. Tom and his wife, Carol, give tremendous support to Immaculate Conception Academy—Cristo Rey. The Director of Mission Advancement there, Tim Szarnicki, provides some insight into Tom’s character when he says, “Tom answers the call for us. He’s a model for having courage in one’s convictions and for making the world beautiful through serving others.”
Tom Brandi was born in San Francisco on April 16, 1945 to Attilio and Evelyn Brandi. His Italian father was a shipyard worker, and his Slovenian mother was a secretary at Bank of America. Of his mother, Tom says, “She was the brains of the family.” She had the opportunity to attend college but was told by her father that college wasn’t for girls. Her desire to attend and her disappointment in not being able to are two of the reasons why Tom’s multiple scholarships are in place—to make sure that young women and young men in the city do have the opportunity that his mother was denied.
He grew up on 38th Avenue with his brother, Bob, and attended Holy Name School. Most of the kids in the neighborhood played sports year round, and they all knew the playground director, Phil Vukicevich, who was a mentor to Tom growing up. Phil would later become the head basketball coach at USF.
When Tom got to St. Ignatius in the fall of ’59, he would meet two more mentors, legendary SI coaches, Vince Tringali (football) and Jim Keating (baseball). These two men taught Tom simple but profound lessons: “Always do your best and never quit.”
While Tom was a varsity athlete, he played on an undefeated football team and back-to-back baseball championships. “My coaches taught us to figure out a way to win,” he says. “Those lessons carried through to me as a student and as a lawyer.”
As a student, Tom credits English teacher, Fr. John Becker, for much of his success in the classroom. As a high school sophomore, Tom didn’t necessarily appreciate Becker. In fact, he simply described the honors English class as “uncomfortable,” and sophomore year as the hardest academic year of his life—including law school. But the discipline required to be on the high side of Becker’s bell curve would serve him well for the rest of his life.
Perhaps the seeds for Tom’s verbal wizardry also had roots in Fr. Spohn’s Physics class. As classmate Tom Kennedy describes it, Spohn was so organized that when he knew he was going to be absent, he’d tape record his lecture for the boys to listen to at their desks. On one such occasion, the class was listening to the recording, and about twenty minutes into the lecture, Spohn’s voice stopped for a moment before he shouted, “Shut up, Brandi!”
And Kennedy says, sure enough, Tom was talking at the time.
He would later receive a baseball scholarship to San Jose State after earning all-league honors in his senior year and hitting a game-winning homerun in the San Francisco Examiner all-star game, during which he wore his SI uniform for the last time.
In his final year at San Jose State, he’d applied for law school and was still waiting for the results when he was playing a spring baseball game at USF. After the game, he was approached by his old coach, Phil Vukicevich, who was now the head basketball coach of the Dons. “You’re in,” he said to Tom about USF Law School. “And by the way, I called a contact over at Hastings, and you got in there too.”
The Jesuits were happy that he decided on USF, and his meeting with Vukicevich reminded Tom that the old neighborhood was still a part of his life even as he was on the cusp of graduating from college. Perhaps former SI Alumni Director, John Ring, put it best when he said, “I worked with Tom setting up the SI Law Society, and I’ve always seen him as an inspiration for every middle class kid who ever went to SI. He grew up in the avenues and worked hard to become one of the best trial attorneys in the country, yet never forgot his roots.”
He even taught and coached for a time at Aptos middle school, which must have served him well when he became a professor at USF Law School, where, in 2011, he was selected as the Hon. Ira A. Brown Adjunct Professor of the year.
There simply isn’t enough time to discuss all of Tom’s honors, but some are worth noting today. In 2004, he was named California Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Consumer Attorneys of California. Since 2004, he has been voted every year as one of the top 100 Super Lawyers in Northern California in all specialties of law, and was thrice named to the top 10. Tom is one of a distinguished group of attorneys who have been listed in Best Lawyers in America for twenty straight years. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association, and last month, at a ceremony at the Italian Athletic Club, Tom was inducted into the Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame.
Like his awards, his notable trials are too numerous to list, but Tom’s eyes still light up when he recounts his representation of the young widow in Peterson v. Wellington Puritan Mills—a case that perhaps symbolizes his ability to champion the underdog, to use all the skills he attained through his education, to represent the average gal against the big corporation.
This tendency is perhaps even more evident in Tom’s work with the Slovenian Church. His mother was Slovenian and grew up on Potrero Hill. Many years ago they had constructed the Church of the Nativity to serve the community there. Some years back it was put on a list for closure by the Catholic Church. Members of the community reached out to Tom for help. Well, he didn’t just write letters. He got on a plane to Rome and met with the Church hierarchy. Church of the Nativity was subsequently removed from the list and thrives to this day thanks to Tom’s efforts.
Simply put, he’s just that kind of guy. As longtime friend Bob Sarlatte puts it, “His loyalty and humility are unmatched. Whether he’s helping a friend with a legal matter or working creatively and tirelessly for the annual Tringali Scholarship Lunch, the man understands the true meaning of friendship.”
Baseball great Tommy Lasorda once said, “You give loyalty, you’ll get it back. You give love, you’ll get it back.”
And so it is that we gather today to celebrate Tom’s loyalty and his love, and perhaps most especially, his courage. He says that every day his son, Rico, teaches him the meaning of courage, and it can certainly be said that Tom has paid it forward. And his family: Carole, Christopher, and Rico can be so very proud of his grand achievements.
On behalf of the school, the St. Ignatius Alumni Association, the Trustees, thank you for being a loyal and humble friend of SI and a role model for future Ignatians.
SAINT IGNATIUS COLLEGE PREPARATORY is proud to bestow its highest honor, the Christ the King Award, upon distinguished graduate Thomas J. Brandi, SI Class of 1963.
GIVEN THIS TWENTIETH DAY OF NOVEMBER, 2016.