Courtship, River Oaks Style

High-powered attorney Earle Lilly was Linda Sarofim Lowe's divorce lawyer, then her lover. Now he's left her, and she wants her $6 million in attorney fees and her Mercedes back.

"Mr. Lilly was a strong, powerful man who took advantage of me when I was weak, out of control. He stepped over the professional line to enable him to better his interests [while] not representing me and my best interest. And I don't feel that -- I doubt much will come of this case, but I hope that he will stop this practice and he won't victimize more women."

Linda Loie Olson was born in Germany with a warrior's blood, the daughter of a U.S. Army colonel and a homemaker. The family was on a perpetual march, it seems, with Linda making nine moves -- one of them trans-Atlantic -- before she finished her public schooling.

She made the grades, gaining an exemption to her senior year of high school to pursue an English degree at the University of Alabama. She married Air Force officer Edward Hicks in 1971 and had her master's degree in English by 1974.

In 1977, she gave birth to Sean, who is now in his second year at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Despite the child, the marriage was collapsing. Hicks had left the Air Force and was flying a helicopter for a medical transport company. They were soon separated, with a final divorce in the early 1980s.

"We had grown apart," Lowe told attorneys at the deposition.
"In what way?" asked Lilly's lawyer.
"I was more mature."

Maturity, though, did not mean experience in the job market. At the time of her separation, she found herself with a young son and a female roommate in an apartment by Woodlake Square. She drove a modest Ford Granada into an uncertain future as a single mother.

Lowe's life shifted into sharp focus in 1979, when she stepped off the elevator at the 29th floor of Two Houston Center at the offices of investing czar Fayez Sarofim.

Lowe, who said she had never worked a day at an outside job before, became a broker/trader. She would call banks to confirm that there was enough money to back up the big-stakes stock trades and purchases that had made Sarofim a rising star in the financial circuits. She would also review the trade sheets with bank balances and related financial material.

Lowe estimated that she made between $25,000 and $50,000 annually for the three years she worked for the company. But it was her moonlighting work that would make all the difference in her development.

Lowe got about $25 an hour to be a baby sitter -- for the Sarofim family's two children. In two-hour stints about two or three times a week, the struggling woman witnessed her first scenes of real wealth.

Sarofim, born of a wealthy Egyptian landowner and honed by a Harvard MBA, was drawing international attention for his investment savvy. It centered on a simple stock strategy -- buy name brands and be conservative.

He had founded the investment company bearing his name in 1958, and was well on his way to the status of guru when Lowe entered his life. Sarofim was touted regularly by the U.S. business press as a man who could step into the ring with a wildly swinging stock market and beat it virtually every time. By 1992, he was general of a $28 billion portfolio, calling the trades for the massive Ford Pension Fund and Dreyfus Appreciation Fund.

He was smart, but his start had been aided as well by marriage many years earlier to Louisa Stude, adopted daughter of legendary icon George R. Brown, a man whose power and persuasion shaped Houston and its destiny for decades. With a scion of the Brown family at his side, the groom nicknamed the "Sphinx" walked down the aisle leading into the inner temples of Houston's richest social elite.

Into that life inched Linda Lowe, the baby sitter and beginning employee 25 years younger than Sarofim. In her recent deposition, she would admit to having a years-long affair with Sarofim, but she insisted that her first sexual encounter with Sarofim came against her will.

She said Sarofim told her in 1981 -- two years into her job -- that she faced an ultimatum: Go to a downtown hotel and make love with him, or be fired.

"Did you meet him there and have sex with him?" Lilly's lawyer asked.
"Yes."
"For what period of time?"
"Several years."

Lowe told attorneys at the deposition that she considered it immoral and unfair to his children -- not his wife.

Lowe said she continued the affair with Sarofim to save her job; later in the deposition she testified that the affair cost her that job. An executive at the investment company fired her for the relationship with Sarofim, she said.

After three years at the company -- the only three years in her life that she ever worked outside the home -- Lowe was no longer a broker/trader. She was a mistress.

That mistress showed her first litigation skills in 1983, against Sarofim himself and his company. She alleged he assaulted her in 1982 and the company conspired to cover it up, causing her "great emotional distress," Lowe's attorney, George Karam, stated in the suit.

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