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Early pioneer of Louisiana trust law and Tulane alumnus, Judge Pappy Little, has died

April 12, 2024 11:30 AM
Alina Hernandez ahernandez4@tulane.edu

Judge F.A. "Pappy" Little, right, was inducted into the Tulane Law Hall of Fame in 2023 by then-Dean David Meyer (left). Little died at the age of 87 in late March. (Photo credit: Tracie Morris Schaefer)


Tulane Law alumnus the Honorable Frank A. “Pappy” Little, Jr. (A&S ’58, L ‘61), who served on the federal bench for 22 years with distinction and was a pioneer in Louisiana trust law, has died. He was 87.

Little, who in 2023 was inducted into the Tulane Law School Hall of Fame, was retired from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. In a career that spanned 63 years, Little was considered a titan in tax and constitutional law, and was one of the early scholars who crafted a trust law code in Louisiana. 

“Judge Little was a true leader of the law in Louisiana and I was proud to call him a Tulanian and my friend,” said Interim Dean Sally Richardson.  “He was an inarguable leader in the world of trust law, he was a giant in the federal judiciary, and an absolutely wonderful person."

"I first met Pappy as a Junior Honorary Member of the Louisiana State Law Institute in 2010," Richardson continued. "He was incredibly kind and gracious to a recent law school graduate, always ready to give as much time and counsel as you needed. He was a true gentleman, a great lawyer, and an even better human being.”

At Tulane, Little was considered an expert on federal estate tax and constitutional law, having been, since 1977, a member of the prestigious American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, where he was one of the longest-serving members. He taught at Tulane Law School as an adjunct professor while he was an active federal judge, taking part in the Tulane Tax Institute, and for many years he created the written and oral examinations used to certify candidates as specialists in taxation and estate tax and

Judge Little speaking during the Tulane Law Hall
of Fame.

administration. He taught in the law school’s summer program, in Rhodes, Greece.

Little spent his early life in Peoria, Ill., arriving in New Orleans fresh out of high school in the mid-50s, never having been to Tulane’s campus or the city, said his daughter, Sabrina Little DiMichele.

“He always felt like he had come home when he moved to New Orleans,” said DiMichele. “He never said he was from Illinois. He was from Louisiana.”

At Tulane, as a philosophy major, Little also made the relationships that would remain lifelong constants. He met his wife, Gail Cox Little (NC’58), a Newcomb College physics student; they married during their senior year. He also met the future jurist Jacques Wiener (A&S ’56, L’61) and Max Nathan (L’60) and a long list of alumni whose friendships he treasured.

“We were in undergraduate together, and then law school classmates, studying for exams together,” said the Hon. Jacques Wiener. “Pappy had a wonderful sense of humor and a way of getting right to the matter of serious issues. We have remained friends and colleagues for the rest of our lives.”

Wiener recalled that he – an avid duck hunter – trusted Little so much during the fall of his 1L year that he could regularly skip Professor Mitchell Franklin’s Saturday short course on contracts.

“Well, it was a matter of which came first, duck hunting or law school class – you could choose duck hunting as long as you had Pappy Little taking copious notes in that class,” Wiener recalled fondly.

Years later, it was Pappy Little who would swear in Judge Wiener to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

After law school, Little built a distinguished career in law practice, first in New Orleans and later moving to Alexandria in 1965 and playing a leading role in building the Gold Weems firm into one of the state’s most respected law firms.  As its president, Little led the firm, then known as Gold, Little, Simon, Weems & Bruser, until his appointment to the bench.

He was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana by President Reagan in 1984 and served as Chief Judge from 1996 to 2002, before retiring in 2006. As a Judge, Little established a national reputation as an outstanding jurist. 

Among grueling trials and cases, Little found joy in one of the simplest, but most important, acts required of a federal judge: Naturalization ceremonies.

“He loved them, and would tape a penny to the naturalization certificates to remind the recipients of the phrase ‘E Pluribus Unum’ (‘out of many, one’), which is about the unity of the country,” said DiMichele. “He believed that bringing people to our nation provided such a richness to our country.”

During his service as a district judge, Little regularly sat by designation on the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fifth and Sixth Circuits, hearing appeals in more than 250 cases.  After retiring from the federal bench, Little accepted an appointment as Chief Justice for the Coushatta Tribe in Louisiana, a position for which he was chosen because of his impeccable reputation. He held the post for nearly nine years. 

Little, center, with his family at the Hall of Fame.

Little rejoined Gold Weems later in his career, and there again, he drew on years of experience as a practitioner and Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel in the areas of wills and successions and as a former member of the federal judiciary. He also had expertise in the field of mediation and arbitration and as a consultant on commercial matters and federal litigation.

Throughout his career, Judge Little contributed to legal scholarship, lecturing on constitutional law and publishing extensively on constitutional and tax law for the Tulane Law Review, Tax Law Review, and Hastings Law Journal.  He also was active in advancing the cause of law reform, and served for a long time on the Council of the Louisiana Law Institute. 

Little is survived by his wife, Gail, and his two daughters, Sophie Little McGough and DiMichele, their spouses, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

DiMichele says that during Judge Little’s brief illness, her family received messages from his former clerks, classmates and friends. Several spoke of his importance in legal circles, but all remembered his wit, humor and kindness.

“Many of his clerks, who came from all over the country, recalled that their year with my father in our small hometown of Alexandria was the most important of their careers, and that can only be because my father was a wonderful teacher and such a kind man,” she said.

Services for Little were held in Houston this week. Donations may be made to Tulane Law Fund (giving.tulane.edu/law) or the charity of the donor's choice.