Stuart Thomas Saunders Jr., 78, a Philadelphia corporate lawyer, raconteur, and native Virginian who never lost his Southern drawl or his burly wrestler’s physique, died Thursday, April 25, at Beaumont at Bryn Mawr.
Mr. Saunders, a three-sport athlete in high school, had suffered a stroke in 2009 but held court for visitors in Beaumont’s health center, said his wife, Susanna Terrell Saunders. He remained witty until the end.
“Basically, he was bedridden for nine years,” said his wife, “but he didn’t let that stop him. We had parties for him. He was a character."
In 1966, Mr. Saunders started out as a summer associate at Dechert LLP, and then became an associate in Philadelphia and then in the firm’s Washington office. His specialty was banking and corporate law.
In the 1980s, he left Dechert and headed the legal department of First Pennsylvania Corp. He was named an executive vice president and general counsel at the banking company.
Mr. Saunders was credited by company officials with playing a key role in eliminating a backlog of lawsuits against the firm stemming from aggressive and risky lending and investment practices in 1980, The Inquirer reported in 1983.
After CoreStates Financial Corp. acquired First Pennsylvania, Mr. Saunders rejoined Dechert as a corporate partner in 1993. He retired on Jan. 1, 2006, and remained on friendly terms with his Dechert colleagues, said communications manager Erin West.
A civic volunteer, Mr. Saunders was board chairman for the African Wildlife Foundation and a trustee of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Born in Roanoke, Va., he was the son of Dorothy Davidson and Stuart Thomas Saunders. His father, also a corporate lawyer, headed the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1964 and led its merger with the New York Central Railroad to form the Penn Central Transportation Co.
Mr. Saunders graduated in 1960 from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., where he made a lasting impression on classmates and faculty, according to a school profile.
He was a football lineman, wrestler, and track and field thrower, and served as captain in all three sports. “In fact, he often competed in wrestling and winter track meets during the same season,” the profile said.
He earned all-metropolitan and all-state honors in football. His team lost only one game in each of his last two years at the school.
“He was known for his leadership, sportsmanship, and character — both on the field and off,” the profile said. While at Episcopal, he also headed the glee club and choir.
Mr. Saunders graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1967.
He and his wife married in 1968. They lived in Haverford and then Bryn Mawr.
Mr. Saunders enjoyed traveling the world in pursuit of fly-fishing adventures. He was passionate about good food, fine wine, music, and spending time with friends and family.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Stuart Thomas Saunders III and Charles Terrell Saunders; three grandchildren; a sister; and two brothers.
A celebration of life will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 11, at the Church of the Redeemer, 230 Pennswood Rd., Bryn Mawr. He donated his body to science.