Lawrence M. Sullivan Sr.

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.


Submitted by Jeanette Sauers on
Kate, my thoughts and prayers are with you always. Dick and I were shocked and sorry to hear that Larry died...and so soon after your dear sister. May God give you peace and comfort at this incredibly sad time! Love you. Jeanette

Submitted by Loretta Walsh on
Kate and Family, my heart was so heavy when I received the call about Larry. My condolences to all. I sat for a bit very sad until I started thinking about the many pranks we played on others and the great times we had. He was my friend for forty years. He fiercely loved each one of you. Take care of each other and always tell stories to keep the memory of Larry alive. God bless you all

Submitted by Pat on
R.I.P. God bless the Sullivan Family!

Submitted by Ed Pankowski on
Kate and Family ....May Peace be with you all upon the passing of our Beloved Larry ...a great man and my boss at PD’s office for 25 years .....My Prayers continue

Submitted by Holly Carhart on
Kate and family, I am so sorry on your loss. I only worked for the Public Defender's Office for 9 years but I remember him and what a good man he was. I am sure he will be greatly missed. Holly (Hambleton) Carhart

Submitted by TENUI NEC DIMITTAM on

Submitted by Barbara J. Tritelli on
May fond memories of Larry bring you comfort during this hard time in your life. My heart and prayers go out to you and your family.

Submitted by Samuel L Waltz Jr on
My wife Sandi and I send our "Prayers for the Peace that Passeth Understanding" on the passing of Larry Sullivan. In the decades that I've known Larry and Kate, even in his illness, he seemed a man of such strength, as well as of great integrity. His passing is a loss to all of us, but he's now at home with the Lord and is in his perfection. We send our heartfelt prayers of condolence to the family.

Submitted by Don Squires on
I am so sorry.He was a great boss at reg.of wills office,great teacher at wilmington university,and a good friend.

Submitted by Jack Sanderson on
To the Sullivan family, my condolences. Have many memories as I grew up with Larry's brother Jim in Union Park Gardens. Larry was my lawyer for my TV & Real Estate Business over the years back in the 60's & 70's. Couldn't ask for a better person .My prayers are for him & his family.

Submitted by Jim liguori on
Sullivan family: My sincere condolences. Larry was a great friend. His inspiration for our State’s video phone system revolutionized the criminal justice process . He always found time and,in many instances,employment for lawyers that may have needed a helping hand when they found themselves in a difficult situation. Our CJC “conferences” we attended around the country were always “ interesting”. Time spent together at Pilot Point was a joy. He’ll be missed. Thoughts and prayers.

Submitted by Robert Wilson on
I first met Larry at a Tower Hill football game Larry’s son was on the team wiith my son, Andy Wilson After that, Larry was very helpful with the substance abuse prevention efforts that I worked on through The University of Delaware Of course, that’s how met Kate Larry and I were born in the same year - 1937 The first thing I look at in The News Journal is the obituary page Larry’s obit told about some very important contributions that Larry made to Delaware government I just having a.few chuckles about sitting in the THS bleachers with Larry They were wonderful times Bob Wilson

Submitted by Christine Whitehead on
Larry was unique. The breadth of his talents and abilities was amazing as was the depth of the love he felt for his family and friends. More lawyers owe their careers to him than anyone will ever know. He found the time to be active politically in the midst of a busy life because people mattered to him. He may have led the last moderate to liberal group of Young Republicans in the country. His courage faced with an incurable illness was inspiring and will help millions of others with it. We can only mourn his departure too young and thank God that he was with us this long. My sympathy to all his family. You made him truly happy.

Submitted by Bill Sowden on
I grew up in the same neighborhood as Larry. Our fathers were ushers at St. Thomas Catholic Church. I followed Larry at St. Thomas's ( 58 ) and Salesianum High School ( 62 ) . I was with Farmers Bank and Wilmington Trust. I saw Larry periodically and he always stopped to see how I was doing. My best friend Howard Hillis became a Public Defender and always spoke highly of Larry. I will keep the family in my thoughts and prayers.

Submitted by Gloria and John... on
Kate and Family, We are so saddened to learn of Larry's passing, and we are deeply sorry for the pain and loss that you bear. Please know that we wish you and yours an easier burden through the sympathies and prayers of so many who care. May he now rest in peace. God bless you all. Gloria and John Campanelli

Submitted by client on
My condolences to the Family. Learned as a client from the way this man carried himself to be a better person by treating others the way Larry would, we walked back from the court. stopping every. 10 ft. to feed the expired meters. good thing he ran out of quarters . because I was paying by the hour

Submitted by Megan S. Fioravanti on
Dear Kate- Many blessings and prayers to you and your family. I have many fond memories of my nice neighbors who always made a fuss over my children and offered me friendship and kindness. God Bless you all.

Submitted by Liz Obara Piedr... on
Please accept our condolences on the loss of our dear Uncle Larry. He was a good man, kind-hearted and loving. He was a good friend and brother-in- law to my parents as well. He was my Godfather, and I used to say growing up that my soul was a little bit Irish due to my Irish Godparents! He loved his family deeply and he will be missed. Sending prayers for strength and peace to the whole family.

Submitted by Charles Oberly on
Kate and Family: Larry and I began our association on opposite sides a number of years ago. Only after I matured a bit did I fully understand and appreciate what a caring and good man he was throughout his career. There are so many people who benefitted from his commitment to justice for all. He is the father of the modern Public Defenders of Delaware, a legacy that will forever be remembered by all who believe in the cause of justice. I will miss Larry and the friendship we developed over the years. I also want to acknowledge the wonderful care Larry received these last years, a true testimony to the love you all had for him as a husband, father, grandfather and friend.