John McHenry Mee, a retired partner with McAfee & Taft and a consummate “deal lawyer,” passed away on Tuesday, October 17, 2023, at the age of 93.
A native of Oklahoma City, John graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, California, in 1951 and the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1954. After serving as a trial lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC, for a year and as an attorney with the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps for three years, he returned to Oklahoma and began a career in private practice that would span seven decades. He joined McAfee & Taft – then known as McAfee, Taft, Cates, Mark, Bond & Rucks – in 1971 following the firm’s merger with the law firm of Fowler, Rucks, Baker, Jopling, Gramlich & Mee.
From 1971 until his retirement in 2012, John concentrated his practice in corporate, securities, and financing law for more than 40 years. Over the course of his distinguished career with the firm, he served as lead counsel in more than $2 billion of mergers and acquisitions and various forms of financings. He also served as lead trial counsel, trusted advisor, and consultant in numerous litigation and arbitration matters.
“John was the master of the ‘big deal,’” said retired partner Rick Riggs. “When looking at a major transaction, clients knew to call John, as he had an extraordinary ability to quickly assess a matter, consider the legal issues, and assemble a team of lawyers to cover every base. Many McAfee lawyers were privileged to be on one of John’s teams, and each became a better lawyer as a result. John’s devotion to the firm and its lawyers was unqualified, and in the course of a deal he was a coach, a mentor, and a friend to team members. He did this with his broad knowledge of the law and business, appreciation for the contributions of others, and always with good humor. That collegial spirit endures at the firm, in no small part because many of its lawyers learned from John what it means to be a McAfee & Taft partner.”
Even as he ascended to the heights of leadership at the firm in the 1980s and 1990s, building collegiality and camaraderie among lawyers remained important to John. He took particular delight in making sure everyone felt welcome at firm events, and he always looked forward to the annual golf tournament that pitted younger attorneys (Whippersnappers) against the more seasoned lawyers (Fadeaways).
“John embraced his role as a leader, as well as a mentor and father figure to many of the younger attorneys at the firm,” said Richard Nix. “He wanted McAfee & Taft to be a family. And it was important that he reflected that not only in what he said, but what he did.”
In addition to providing senior leadership to the firm for many years, John served as lead attorney for the firm’s largest client for many, many years and helped that company grow from a small regional food distributor into a national company.
“John was just a phenomenal attorney, and the Fleming Companies represented a large percentage of our business for a long time,” said Nix. “And that burden, as I’ve gotten older and reflected back, had to be great. But John embraced it because he knew we could provide the services they needed, but more importantly, he could help others within the firm by taking care of such a wonderful client.”
At the firm’s 70th Anniversary celebration in August 2022, John was recognized as a “Legacy Honoree” for his lasting contributions to the heritage and success of the firm. Those contributions included being a mentor and teacher.
“John was my mentor more than anyone,” said Dee Replogle, who began his career practicing law with John at Fowler, Rucks, Baker, Jopling, Gramlich & Mee. “Everything that I was later to accomplish in the law, I attribute to John. And I always felt that he was extremely, extremely kind to me and very considerate and very patient with me.”
Frank Hill, who joined the firm as an associate in 1970 and practiced with John for more than 40 years, agreed. “John was an exceptional lawyer, a wonderful mentor, and an even better friend. John gave me valuable professional advice and opportunities during my early years at the firm and showed far more confidence in my legal ability than I deserved. I thank John for being my friend and for playing such a major role in continuing the remarkable culture of McAfee & Taft that was established by our founders.”
Over the years, many have attributed the firm’s collegial and collaborative culture to something that John repeatedly emphasized to his colleagues.
“He taught me that at McAfee & Taft, there is only a ‘we’ and not ‘I,’ said Louis Price. “The firm meant so much to him, and those of us who were privileged to know and work with John grew to honor his respect for the firm, its culture, and its rich traditions.”
John is survived by his wife of 67 years, Carolyn, son William Mee and wife Tracy, daughter Deva Mee Jackson and husband Jim, daughter Kathryn Mee Crabb and husband Jay, nine grandchildren, and numerous family members, friends and colleagues.