Thomas J. Moran, known as T. J. Moran or Tom Moran (September 30, 1930 – May 18, 2015), was a restaurateur, diversified businessman, and philanthropist in his adopted city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He purchased the first franchise for Ruth’s Chris Steak House and expanded thereafter to his own TJ Ribs and Ruffino’s Italian Restaurant.
Moran was born in suburban Evanston outside Chicago in Cook County, Illinois. He served during the Korean War as a first lieutenant in the United States Army. He was part of the military police and was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.Though known for displaying Louisiana State University memorabilia, he was actually a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, to which he once wrote a check for $1 million.
In the early 1970s, while in New Orleans, he discovered Ruth’s Chris Steak House and met its founder, Ruth Fertel. In 1975, he established the first Ruth’s Chris franchise on Airline Highway in Prairieville in Ascension Parish outside Baton Rouge. He moved the restaurant three years later to Constitution Avenue in the capital city. He expanded to eleven Ruth’s Chris franchises in other cities. Kevin Kimball, a former employee of the Moran company now affiliated with the Wayne Stabiler Companies in Baton Rouge, said that he believes Ruth Fertel would have not gone national in scope had not Moran pushed her to sell him that first franchise.
In 1986, Moran opened TJ Ribs in Baton Rouge, which over the years employed thousands of college students. He also founded Ruffino’s Italian Restaurant and operated the Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant franchise in Baton Rouge. In the years preceding his death in Baton Rouge at the age of eighty-four, Moran sold his restaurants except for a small interest in the Baton Rouge Ruth Chris outlet. He also ventured into radio stations, advertising agencies, appliance and furniture stores, automobile dealerships, construction and real estate development.
Moran was a large donor to the Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center in Baton Rouge. An avid golfer since childhood, Moran was a leader of the Baton Rouge Charity Golf Classic and pushed to fruition the “Brick by Brick” capital campaign to raise funds for the construction of the six-story addition to the Cancer Center. In 2010, he contributed $1 million the Cancer Center Foundation to guarantee access for patients and their families.He had been a 25-year cancer survivor. Despite his wish not to publicize his contribution, the hospital in 2014 named the Thomas J. Moran Imaging Center in his honor.
He was a founding director of the Dale Brown Foundation, named for the LSU Tigers basketball coach Dale Brown. Moran asked for years not to be identified as the donor of the first $50,000 for the foundation, which supports educational opportunities for needy students. Brown called Moran “the brother I didn’t have.” Moran was a board member of the Pennington Family Foundation, Girls & Boys Town, and the Baton Rouge River Center. He contributed to the Boy Scouts of America, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. He was a charter member of the Karnival Krewe de Louisiane. He flew to Calcutta, India, to befriend the popular nun, Mother Teresa, who became his close friend and recipient of his generosity for her programs to address poverty.
Moran and his wife, the former Lois Burke (born c. 1933), had five children, Erin Thrash and husband Rob, Elizabeth Vance and husband John; Megan Moran, engaged to Paul McFall; Kathleen Jensen and husband Peter, and Burke Moran and wife Melissa. A mass of Christian burial was to be conducted on May 23 at St. George Catholic Church in Baton Rouge.
Louisiana State Senate President John Alario of Jefferson Parish in suburban New Orleans, said that his friend Moran, who often hosted Alario’s clients at the various restaurants, “always seemed to look at the bright side of things.” Former Governor Edwin Edwards recalled that Moran “had a host of friends and customers who liked him. I’m sure we’ll all miss him. I know I will.” Moran used the business motto: “Make it better every day.” Erin Thrash said that her father “left a huge hole, but an even bigger legacy.” Kevin Kimball added, “He had a huge heart. He went about helping people quietly. Some of them don’t even know it.”
Two months before his death, Moran was inducted into Chef John Folse’s Lafcadio Hearn Hall of Fame at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana.Moran was the second Louisiana restaurateur to die in a two-month period. On March 14, Richard Brennan, owner of the Brennan Family Restaurants died in his native New Orleans at the age of eighty-three