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Fentress Bracewell, founder of one of Houston's more prominent law firms and a former longtime Port of Houston commissioner, died Wednesday after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for several years, his family said. He was 85. "He was an outstanding servant to his family, clients and the community," said Tom Phillips, Bracewell's son-in-law and a former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. "He was one of a handful of those leaders who transformed Houston from a regional center to a world-class city."

Born to J.S. and Lola Bracewell in the former town of Harrisburg in Houston's East End in 1921, Bracewell was schooled at Harrisburg Elementary, Deady Middle School and Milby High School.

While attending Baylor University, the man known as "Brace" to his friends met his future wife, Muriel, to whom he was married for 54 years.

He graduated from Baylor Law School and joined his father, his brother Searcy and future state District Judge Bert Tunks in founding the Houston law firm Bracewell & Tunks in 1945. Bracewell practiced law for 50 years.

"The standard of personal, professional and public service he achieved made a mark on Houston that will not likely be equaled," his son, Brad Bracewell, said.

The firm changed its name to Bracewell & Patterson in 1966 and became Bracewell & Giuliani in 2005, when former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani joined as a partner. The firm now has 400 lawyers in New York, Connecticut, Texas, Washington, D.C., Kazakhstan and London.

Bracewell served as port commissioner from 1968 to 1970 before becoming chairman, serving the longest tenure of anyone in that post, 15 years. He traveled to ports around the world to promote trade and boost the Port of Houston's stature, as well as leading the development of the terminal and his namesake, the Fentress Bracewell Barbours Cut Terminal, at Morgan's Point.

Bracewell also was chairman of the regional board of the Institute of International Education, which directs, among others, the Fulbright Scholars program. He served on numerous other boards, including the First Continental Life & Accident Insurance Co., Cemex, First Investors Financial Services Corp., Frontier Airlines, American Funeral Services and the Broadway Plan of Church Finance.

Bracewell also served as a director of the Houston Chamber of Commerce and as a trustee and Sunday school teacher at Westminster United Methodist Church.

An avid baseball fan, Bracewell was credited with helping to bring Major League Baseball to Houston. His family said that, although he was a stickler for following the rules, he allowed his son and daughter to skip school in April 1962 to accompany him to the first Houston Colt .45's game, where they saw the home team defeat the Chicago Cubs 11-2.

In later years, after the team became the Astros and moved from an open ball park to a world-famous domed stadium, Bracewell faithfully cheered from his seats along the first-base line.

"He had the best seats in the house," Phillips said.

In addition to Bracewell's wife and son, survivors include his daughter, Lyn B. Phillips, and grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nephews and a niece.

A memorial service will be conducted at 10 a.m. June 22 at Westminster United Methodist Church, 5801 San Felipe.


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