While his name figured prominently on the letterhead of the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, attorney Peter Dorsey was a legend in his own right.
A successful trial lawyer for 45 years with the powerhouse Minneapolis-based firm who often represented the titans of the Twin Cities business community, Dorsey valued and nurtured relationships well beyond his considerable client base.
"He enjoyed people and people clearly enjoyed him," said Bill Stoeri, the firm's managing partner.
Dorsey, of Minneapolis, died peacefully at home on Sept. 12. He was 99.
Born in Minneapolis to Mary and James Dorsey, he graduated from the Blake School in 1940 and headed to Harvard University. When the United States entered World War II, Dorsey enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and served as a lieutenant in the 77th Infantry Division during combat on Okinawa. After Japan surrendered, he served in the Army of Occupation in Sapporo until 1946, returning to Harvard to complete his undergraduate and law degrees.
Back in Minneapolis in 1949, Dorsey began practicing law at the firm his father helped establish, representing high-caliber clients such as Cargill, SuperValu, Ford, Xerox and First Bank System (now U.S. Bank). He was instrumental in getting Metropolitan Stadium built, which cleared the way for the Washington Senators to eventually move to Bloomington and become the Twins.
"By the time he retired, he was well known and highly regarded as a rainmaker," Stoeri said.
But Dorsey also branched out, serving as president of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, representing defendants facing anti-Communist hearings held by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. He helped form the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis, which still provides culturally sensitive, community-based legal counsel to clients, many of them indigent.
Friends and colleagues said Dorsey cut an impressive figure, always impeccably dressed with French cuffs and sporting a perfectly coiffed mane. He often held court at the Monte Carlo restaurant in the North Loop, a true bon vivant.
"He was a giving guy; he made friends wherever we went," said longtime friend Kenny Meshbesher of St. Louis Park.
After retiring, Dorsey and Patricia Elfstrand, now his wife, spent time in La Jolla, Calif., which he dubbed his "sacred spot." He attracted a large group of eclectic friends there, hosting frequent and vibrant dinner parties.
Well read and curious, "he was charismatic and charming," said David LeSage of San Diego, who met Dorsey through mutual friends. "It was refreshing — he wasn't aligned with any mind-set."
Thanksgiving was Dorsey's favorite holiday. Each guest was asked to express what they were thankful for and then together they sang "America the Beautiful," Elfstrand said.
Dorsey tooled about town in a black Cadillac with a rich red interior. If people spotted the car, Elfstrand said it meant their answering machine would be clogged with messages from friends wanting to get together.
Behind it all was Elfstrand, his companion of more than 30 years and wife since 2019. "He was my everything," she said. "I will miss him forever."
In addition to his wife, Dorsey is survived by daughters Sheila of Eugene, Ore., and Cynthia Strutin of Portland, Ore.; sons Justin of Minneapolis and Sage of Bend, Ore.; a stepdaughter, Amy Elfstrand of St. Louis Park; 10 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752