Lawrence M. Sullivan Sr.
September 5, 1937 - September 9, 2019
Lawrence M. Sullivan Sr., “Larry”, former Public Defender for the State of Delaware, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Monday, September 9, 2019. He was 82 years old.
Larry was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of Teresa and James Sullivan. In 1943, he began his 19 years of Catholic education at St. Thomas the Apostle Grammar School. He was a graduate of the 1955 class of Salesianum School, where he was a standout athlete playing football and baseball. He went on to study at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he continued playing football and discovered his passion for debate and critical thinking. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, he served with the Delaware Army National Guard. In the fall of 1961, Larry entered law school at The Catholic University of America and earned his Juris Doctor Degree in 1964.
After graduation, he founded and served as President of The Active Young Republicans of Wilmington. In this capacity, he played a critical role shaping the perception of Wilmington’s and Delaware’s Republican Party and developing a generation of prominent Republican leaders. In 1966, he was elected Register of Wills and Judge of Probate. He pursued his love of teaching and mentoring and became an Associate Professor of Real Estate Law at Wilmington College and co-authored the textbook used in his classes, Delaware Real Estate Practice.
In 1970, when Governor Russell Peterson appointed him Public Defender for the State of Delaware, Larry embarked on an extraordinary career that transformed Delaware’s criminal justice system. Over the 39 years that Larry served as Public Defender, he grew the office from 10 employees to a full-service law firm employing 150+ people, including 70 attorneys. Larry ensured that the Public Defender’s Office fulfilled its mission to provide effective, conflict-free legal counsel to every indigent person accused of a crime. To this day, lawyers and staffers in Delaware’s Public Defender’s Office strive to meet the lofty goals Larry established.
While serving as Chief Public Defender, Larry also served as Vice Chairman of The Criminal Justice Counsel for 21 years. In this role, he shaped and implemented policies that significantly improved our state's legal defense of the poor. One of the policies that was of personal interest to Larry was improving the availability and quality of drug, alcohol and psychiatric treatment for his clients who otherwise would not have the means or access to treatment. He collaborated with multiple state agencies to create Delaware’s Mental Health Court, catering to persons involved in the criminal justice system as a result of serious mental health issues.
He has been recognized both locally and nationally for his contributions to our community and the profession of law. The International Association of Forensic Nurses awarded him The Vision Award (2005), recognizing him for significantly contributing to the advancement of Forensic Nursing. The St. Patrick’s Society awarded Larry The Daniel Frawley Community Service Award (2014). King’s College recognized him with their Outstanding Professional Achievement Award (2007). The Delaware Center for Justice honored him with The William A. Vrooman “Exemplar of Justice” Award (2016), paying tribute to him for devoting his time to improving the quality of justice in Delaware.
The American Bar Association awarded Larry The Charles H. Dorsey Award (2006), recognizing him for his exceptional work as a public defender. The National Legal Aid and Defender Association awarded Larry with the prestigious Reginald Heber Smith Award (2006), celebrating his achievements and dedicated service providing indigent defense services. These two awards are the highest honors available to Public Defenders nationally.
Larry was awarded The Order of the First State (2009) the highest honor the Governor of Delaware can bestow, recognizing him as one who has made a significant impact on the citizens of Delaware. In 2017, he was inducted into the Salesianum Hall of Fame for distinguished alumni.
In his personal life, family was the single most important thing to him. He never missed a game, performance, phone call or any opportunity to support his children and grandchildren. He took great joy in spending time with friends and family in Lewes, DE, Canadensis, PA and The Villages, FL. Larry was a die-hard Eagles, Notre Dame and Salesianum fan. After his retirement, he discovered a passion for golf and would regularly play in Delaware and Florida. He was a loyal friend and mentor to many in the community and was fiercely proud of his Irish heritage.
He is predeceased by his mother and father, Teresa and James E. Sullivan and his brother James E. Sullivan Jr., USMC. He is survived by his beloved wife of 31 years, Catherine “Kate” Durkin Sullivan; his three children and their spouses, Lawrence M. Sullivan Jr. (Krisi), John L. Sullivan, Catherine “Kasia” Horner (Tom); three step-children, William H. Walters (Liz), Casey Chipman (Zach), Erin Smolenski (Mike); and his sister, Jane Keough. Between Larry and Kate they had 11 grandchildren, Winston and Harris Sullivan, Camille Sullivan, Teresa and Edith Horner, Griffin and Sophia Walters, Devon and Beckett Chipman and Connor and Lilly Smolenski. We will remember Pop-Pop for his quick wit, sense of humor, his passion for sports, the importance he placed on faith and for the example he set by loving his family and friends unconditionally.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Friday September 20th, 2019 at 11:30 A.M., with a visitation from 10 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. at St. Anthony’s of Padua Church, 901 N. DuPont Street Wilmington, DE 19805. Burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Ministry of Caring,115 E. 14th Street Wilmington, DE 19801.