Thomas Victor Laprade was a prominent Portland attorney who took on a broad range of complicated cases, from medical malpractice suits to the well-publicized brain harvesting case.

Though being a partner in a Portland law firm was a big part of his life, nothing overshadowed the love and devotion he had for his four young sons. He coached his boys’ Little League baseball teams for the past 13 years or so.

Mr. Laprade died unexpectedly Friday night at age 44.

Family members said he had gone to Maine Medical Center for a blood test — he had not been feeling well — and died at the hospital from complications of a heart infection.

He and his wife, Sara, and their four children have lived in Cape Elizabeth for the past 16 years.

“He was highly respected as an attorney,” his wife said. “But the thing that really stands out for Tom was that he was a very ethical person. He never took advantage of anyone.”

Mr. Laprade was born in Burlington, Vt., the son of Victor and Lucille Laprade.

He received his law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

Mr. Laprade took time from his law studies to teach inmates at the Cook County Correctional Center how to read.

“He had this theory,” said his father, Victor Laprade. “He used to tell me that if he could rule the world, no one would ever leave prison until they could read.”

Laprade said his son was diagnosed at birth with a congenital heart defect.

“From the time he was a kid, he just ran and he never stopped running, and he did it (lived his life) with a kind heart,” his father said.

Mr. Laprade had heart surgeries in his early teens and again in his early 30s. That heart valve replacement went so well that he told his dad, “I never knew what it could mean to feel so good.”

Inspired by the success of that operation, Mr. Laprade started competing in triathlons — an endurance event that typically combines cycling, running and swimming.

“He was an amazing example of how to comport yourself against medical hardship,” said his sister-in-law, Ellen Fanning of New York City. “He was so charming, easy to be around, and funny. He was an amazing person.”

Mr. Laprade had been feeling well until last summer, when he had an aortic valve replacement, his father said.

This past Easter Sunday, he complained of not feeling well again. But that did not stop him from returning to work at the Portland law firm of Lambert Coffin.

Laprade joined Lambert Coffin in the early 1990s, becoming a partner in 2001, according to one of the firm’s founding members, Phil Coffin.

“Replacing Tom … I don’t think you can do it. The skills he had and the relationship he built with his clients, they can only be developed over time,” Coffin said.

Over the years, Mr. Laprade focused on complex litigation, ranging from large medical malpractice suits and shareholder disputes to product liability and construction contract cases.

Coffin said Mr. Laprade prevailed in a case last fall that had received a lot of media attention. He successfully defended Stanley Medical Research Institute of Maryland against a lawsuit that alleged the research lab wrongfully obtained brains for research into the causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Stanley Medical collected over 600 brains for its research from 1995 to 2005.

“Tom felt particularly proud of winning that case,” Coffin said.

Mr. Laprade’s father said his son went to the hospital on Friday for blood tests, and while he was there he passed away.

“They believe it was caused by a massive infection,” his father said. “It’s a tough thing for anybody. You’ve just got to love your family every single day of your life.”

Cape Elizabeth Little League’s opening ceremonies on Saturday were postponed for a week out of respect for the Laprade family.

Sara Laprade said her husband was one of three Little League coaches for a team that includes their two youngest sons, 12-year-old Tim and 10-year-old Chris. Their other boys are Wilson, 18, and Charlie, 16.

Mr. Laprade has been coaching Little League baseball for more than a decade.

“My son lived for his children, and they in turn worshipped him,” his father said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be reached at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]