facebook twitter Linkedin Email

Lamar University remembers Distinguished Alumnus Joe Tortorice

Lamar University honors the life of Distinguished Alumnus Joseph “Joe” Tortorice, Jr., who died Sat., Aug. 10,
Joe and Shelley Tortorice
Joe and Shelley Tortorice at Lamar University
 2019 after at 19-month battle against cancer. 

Tortorice was a community influencer, business and faith leader and benevolent philanthropist, Lamar University is proud to call an alumnus.

Tortorice is most widely known as the founder of Jason’s Deli, a business employing more than 10,000 people in more than 250 locations across the nation, Lamar University also memorializes Tortorice for his many generous, extraordinary and personal contributions to the university.

“The entire community mourns the loss of this enterprising and selfless man, especially those of us at Lamar University who had the privilege of spending time with him,” said Ken Evans, president of Lamar University. “His character was a unique combination of entrepreneurial talent, authenticity and generosity that made everyone around him comfortable. Lamar University has lost a role model, a progressive thinker and a true friend.”

In 1971 Tortorice, a graduate of Texas A&M University, where he was a commanding officer in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, earned his MBA from Lamar University. After graduating from his hometown university, Tortorice became a proud and active alumnus. He gave his time, talents and treasures generously to a variety of Lamar University’s projects and programs throughout his life.  

Tortorice was a member of the College of Business Board of Advisors, a Mirabeau Society member and member of the Cardinal Club and the Friends of the Arts. Tortorice was also a participant in the 2019 campaign feasibility study. Tortorice was a frequent and magnanimous speaker always willing to share his life experiences, business philosophies, leadership tips, successes and lessons learned with those interested. He was a well-received LU commencement speaker, an esteemed keynote speaker for the Beta Gamma Sigma banquet and also for the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies Series.

Henry Venta, a professor of management and marketing and former Dean of the College of Business knew Tortorice through his affiliation with the College of Business at LU but also had the opportunity to sit with him at an ACTS retreat and said he was “genuine.”

“He was true to his person, a true example of servant leadership. He ran his business and his affairs in the community from the perspective - how can I serve people,” said Venta. "In that sense he was always a leader. He definitely wanted to make the restaurants successful but also his employees. He was concerned about their work-life balance and frequently held retreats for them.”

Tortorice, and his wife, Shelley, were financial supporters of many of Lamar University’s programs and projects. The couple donated to the College of Business, the College of Fine Arts and Communication, the College of Engineering, Alumni Affairs, Cardinal Athletics, the President’s Office, the Mary Morgan Moore Department of Music and the Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies. Tortorice was a sponsor of the Alumni Golf Tournament, the football banquet, the College of Engineering Student Research Program as well as an underwriter of Le Grand Bal. Jason’s Deli was a corporate sponsor of Cardinal Athletics. 

The engaging and gregarious Tortorice opened his business for the Alumni Affairs event “A Dinner and Twelve Strangers.”

“People don’t even know all of the lives he touched…not just family,” said Jake Tortorice, a graduate of LU’s class of 1976 and Joe’s first cousin. “He would give you time. He was busy but he’d make time for you. Generous. Generous. Generous. You wouldn’t know if he had a dollar or donut. He never said, ‘No, I don’t have time right now.’ He’d say, ‘Okay come over.’”

Jake, who owns Rao’s Bakery posted a sentiment about “Joey” in his stores located across Southeast Texas that ends by stating, “Joey was the type of man so many of us aspire to be - an incredible leader, philanthropist, a brother, a father and a friend. Joey inspired many generations of Tortoricis and for that I am forever grateful.”