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.

Sarofim's attorneys filed a stock response, denying the allegations and asking for a judgment that would award nothing to Lowe. Instead, a confidential settlement was announced on January 19, 1984.

Information sealed in that suit did not surface again until the deposition 14 years later. Sarofim, she said, raped her. Her required medical attention, she said, was for an abortion. She was about nine weeks pregnant when she walked alone into a Planned Parenthood clinic near downtown and had the operation. Sarofim paid the bill.

Attorneys for Lilly pressed Lowe for Sarofim's position on the pregnancy, and a pregnancy that followed seven years later. What was his feeling about an abortion?

"Do it," Lowe quoted him as saying.
And her own feeling about the affair with Sarofim? They continued that relationship, even after the lawsuit and settlement. A man familiar with the couple at that time shook his head when questioned about Sarofim's reconciliation with the suing mistress.

"The guy's got to be a genius, at least in investing, but there is no way in hell to imagine how he'd go back to her after she hauled him into court," the former associate said. "Beauty? She wasn't really attractive in looks or in intelligence. She already had a kid. Maybe it was the age thing -- she was young and he was getting up there in years.

"But let's face it, a man with that kind of money could have his pick. It never made sense why he chose her."

On November 27, 1984, the reunited mistress gave birth to a baby boy. Nearly two years later, she provided him with a brother, also out of wedlock.

River Oaks insiders had known about Sarofim's mistress much earlier and were described as fairly tolerant of that and other affairs of the wealthy. But when the maids in River Oaks brought in the mail, the most accepting of Sarofim's associates were stunned by the openness of this relationship.

There was no hiding the existence of either love child. In fact, traditional birth announcements, one of them neatly accented by baby-blue ribbon, trumpeted the births. Over the years, that mail-out has become legend among the upper crust. The story has evolved into one of two versions: Lowe licking the stamps to flaunt her special relationship with Sarofim, or wife Louisa displaying her disgust at her husband's blatant shenanigans.

In the deposition earlier this year, Lowe said Louisa was responsible for the announcements. Attorneys for Lilly said these were hardly limited-edition notices -- a copy ran in the advertising columns of the Houston Chronicle.

At the deposition, Lowe was asked of her reaction to the announcements.
"I thought it was pretty despicable."
"Why?"
"I just did."

On January 3, 1989, life became a bit less complicated in the Sarofim triangle. Louisa Stude Sarofim dropped out and filed for divorce. That spared any need for announcements when Lowe gave birth to yet another child later that year.

In her deposition, Lowe identified the father as a builder who'd worked on a Sarofim project years earlier, who she said neither denied nor acknowledged paternity. Lilly's attorneys asked Lowe for Sarofim's reaction on the paternity.

"Nothing," Lowe said.
Sarofim, in his divorce from Louisa, reached a confidential settlement -- reported to be $250 million, one of the largest in the area's history -- on June 25, 1990.

Three months later, Lowe formally became Mrs. Fayez Sarofim. In the process, her path crossed that of her future lover and adversary, Earle Lilly.

Romantic urges were one challenge for Sarofim, but another was warding off financial ruin from family-court judgments. He had gone through the divorce settlement with Louisa and paid dearly. Before any wedding with Linda, there was going to be a prenuptial agreement. Lowe looked to the firm of Robert Piro and Earle Lilly to help her negotiate a pact.

Lilly has been fabulously successful for a man who was little more than an insurance adjuster in search of success when he arrived in Houston in 1959. The son of a cabdriver and a homemaker, he prides himself on the lean years of his youth in an outlying area of Boston.

He turned cabbie himself to finance his way through the University of Massachusetts. A newlywed, he headed to Texas when an uncle told him he could find insurance-adjusting work in Houston.

Lilly took a liking to the legal field. While working for an insurance company during the day, he attended the University of Houston law school at night for more than six years to get his law degree.

As an attorney, he first took on the drab role of defending insurance companies in lawsuits. After that, Lilly switched to personal injury litigation, for ten years of work that was also largely lackluster.

And, had the late Houston oil tycoon J. Collier Hurley stayed happily married, Lilly might never have made the transition into a family law practice. A woman whom he had represented in a minor case, years earlier, called to line him up as the attorney for Hurley's second divorce. In interviews, Lilly still laughs about asking the millionaire oilman for a modest $5,000 retainer. That legal down payment was part of $100,000 in fees Hurley ultimately paid him in the case.

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